Early spring is not my favorite time of year. The growing sunlight on the seemingly dormant, dull world just irks me. The sunny blue skies and warming winds against a bleak backdrop does little for me. But signs of life slowly start to emerge, and the early flowering trees suddenly explode in shades of pink and yellow…. finally, some color. The magnificent magnolias, the explosive redbuds, the crabby crabapples, and the soon to be tasty fruit trees like apricots and cherries. But even before these, bloom the Red Maples (Acer rubrum). Though not nearly as showy as the other early spring flowering trees, the Red Maple has clusters of tightly packed red flowers all along their branches. One of the earliest bloomers, you might notice them because the flowers are not competing with any leaves, or you might just notice a red “presence” against the silver barked trees and wonder what it is. Take a closer look and you will see this.
Flowers of the Red Maple tree.
Though small in comparison to other tree’s flowers they are nonetheless showy in their own right. The male flowers contain several stamens dotted with yellow pollen that extend beyond the short red petals. The female flowers contain a stigma, to which pollen sticks to and leads to the pollination and thus reproduction of the Red Maple. From this pollinated flower forms the winged samaras or fruits of the Red Maple, you may know these as helicopters or whirlygigs or spinners. These are two winged seeds that fall and spin to the ground, seed dispersal in action. Young seedlings will then begin to grow from each of the seeds. Unlike Sugar Maples where the seeds do not drop until the fall, the seeds (and fruit) of the Red Maple fall in the spring before leaves fully emerge. You might not think of them as a fruit, but botanically speaking a fruit is simply a structure that holds the seeds of the flowering plants (angiosperms), leading to the dissemination and spreading of the seeds and thus new plants, or in this case new Red Maples.
Fruits (winged samaras) of the Red Maple.
Early spring is not my favorite, thank goodness for the Red Maples.