There’s More to Maples Than Just Syrup

04/23/2018

The kids and I have decided to start a YouTube channel directed at children centered mostly on my kids out in nature. For our Earth Day episode, we explored a maple tree. My original idea had been to look at the spring buds on the limbs. My daughter, Sandra, added to the content by using her expert naturalist’s eyes to find some seedlings already unfurling their leaves in the grass around the tree. The experience has left me thinking that there is more to maple trees than just syrup.

Maple seeds are called samaras by botanists and helicopters by some non-botanist folk. These seeds have a wing that causes them to twirl around through the air when they separate from the tree, helping some fall a further distance from the parent tree. The maple we observed had many seeds scattered all around the ground in a circle a little larger than the diameter of the crown of the tree. These had not fallen very far.

In grade school we were taught that seeds are planted in dirt and must pass through a period in darkness underground to be able to sprout and become a seedling. This is true for many seeds, but Sandra’s findings yesterday don’t support that theory in maples. No worries, these seeds were still doing their thing and sprouting. The samaras were standing amongst the blades of grass with their wing pointed up. My little naturalist found many that were putting out a radicle, or first root, down into the ground. She also found several examples of seedlings that were ready to shed their seed casing (including the wing) and unfurl two little cotyledons, or leaves. The whole system seemed close to perfect to me.

The flower buds of maples are also swelling up as the weather warms and the sun gets closer. Maples express their flowers as small hanging clusters in either yellow, orange, red, or green. As the flowers are passing their prime, shiny new leaves push out of the leaf buds and commence the glory of our northern hardwood forests that dominate the Finger Lakes Region. The leaves help to keep our local climate cool, produce oxygen, and add general ambience when they change colors in the fall. While we love it on pancakes or waffles, a unique life history proves that there is more to maple trees than just syrup.


Story and photo by Gabrielle L. Wheeler