Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Silver maples are blooming

Blossoms of Acer saccharinum



It's early spring in south central Kentucky, and the silver maples are blooming (a state that is called "inflorescence". Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) flowers are small, but they're noticeable because they don't have much visual competition this time of the year.

The blossoms in these photos would fall on the "spectacular" end of the silver maple blossom spectrum. This tree has large, brilliantly red flowers. In full bloom, it's a joy to the eyes in a landscape that is still wearing winter's drab colors.

The silver maple flowers in Steven J. Baskauf's photo on the Vanderbilt University website have a more subdued, more typical, reddish tone. Normal colors of silver maple flowers include shades of greenish-yellow.

I think the flowers in my photos are females. Flikr user Gavatron has a good photo of the male silver maple flower. Both male and female flowers may be borne on the same tree -- but not always. The U.S. Forest Service Sylvics Manual explains:

Four types of trees, with respect to sex expression, have been observed: all male flowers; all female flowers but with rudimentary pistils; mostly male with a few females; and mostly male with a few females and a scattering of hermaphroditic flowers. (Source)

Of course, the male flowers produce pollen, and that means that some people are having allergy problems, even though it's just mid-March.

The flowers are a food source for various songbirds, squirrels, and other wildlife. I was reminded of this last year after our big ice storm, when I watched a tiny chickadee land on a broken silver maple branch in our yard, peck the ice off a flower bud, and eat it.

Silver maples have their faults, but we won't go into all that today. Today, we'll just enjoy the blossoms.

2 comments -- please add yours:

Elizabeth | The Natural Capital said...

Every year I forget about how pretty the maples can be until one spring day there's a reddish-purple haze all over the neighborhood. Lovely!

Genevieve said...

Thanks for your comment, Elizabeth. The silver maples in our yard have already bloomed and are making their seeds, lickety split. I was surprised to see how big their seeds are already when I looked at them today.

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

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Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

Photos and text copyright © 2006-2010 by Genevieve L. Netz. All rights reserved. Do not republish without written permission. My e-mail address is gnetz51@gmail.com