Red maples are on my radar this year. Not Japanese red maples, which, believe it or not, seed themselves into invasive status in some areas of the U.S., but the native kind, the kind with leaves that don’t go fully red till fall color kicks in. Acer rubrum. Our red maples have red buds, red flowers, and reddish seeds, too.
They’ve given me a lovely example of From Flower to Fruit.
On March 4, I posted a picture of a cluster of female flowers:
Red maples can have all male flowers on a tree, all female, or a mix. Nature is never dull.
Female flowers each have a long, branched stigma, like the letter “Y.” The Y hangs beyond the rim of the sepals and petals to catch pollen in the breeze. Male flowers make and release the pollen. Note all this happens before leaves emerge, which gives wind-borne pollen a clear shot. Maples don’t rely on insects for pollen delivery: the wind suffices. Which is why we are all still sneezing even after the elm has finished flowering.
And today, March 18, I saw the fruit of red maple pollination:
In the photo you can still see the fuschia miniskirt of sepals/petals at the base of the developing seeds. And look between the seed twins to see the shriveled “Y,” no longer required.
The seeds are still tiny at the moment. Newborn.
Keys, helicopters, samaras, granny glasses, “indehiscent, winged fruit”: all the same thing.
They are edible. Peel the wings and try one. They slip out like edamame.
My favorite thing to do with maple seeds is drop them from the fort. Maple pollen is made to ride wind, and so is the seed.
At school, when I take the Kinders on a habitat hunt around the building, we gather fistfuls of samaras to toss from the top of the stairs.
Autorotation! Wind dispersal! Helicopters!
This was a “lesson plan” I added after meeting grownups on public hikes who had never thrown a samara into the air.
If you haven’t twirled a samara lately, it’s almost time. Red matures first, then silver maple, then sugar maple. Months of helicoptering await.