Silver Maples Acer saccharinum can have both sexes on the same tree. The red flowers in the foreground are female. The "pom-pom" looking flowers on the right are male and loaded with pollen. If you look close (or click on the pic) you can see the male's yellow pollen grains have already been wind blown onto the female flowers.
Most of my street's trees are mature Silver Maples. Just sitting on my front porch, I can see at least a dozen 100-year-old-big Silver Maples currently in bloom, so it's looking very "birds do it, bees do it, the flowers and the trees do it" randy-in-the-skies to me right now.
They're not the only mating game going on this early in the season: I saw a female squirrel eating the Silver Maples' flower buds. She needs their early nutrition: she already has her whitish patchy "jacket" on. It's not mange, it's motherhood. She's already mated and plucked fur from her upper body to insulate her and her brood's nest.
Silver Maple are early bloomers. Before the Red Maples. Although the two bloom periods do overlap and naturally cross to become what's called Swamp Maple aka Freeman Maple Acer x fremmanii. They're trying them now up the street from here, say they're less brittle. I'm thinking about getting one for my neighbourhood park.
Here in southern Ontario, our earliest native blooms open in this order:
1. Skunk Cabbage
2. Silver Maples
3. Harbingers-of-Spring Erigenia bulbosa (rare)
4. Spring Beauty
5. then a blur of hepatica (see comments), ginger, trout lily, toothwort, bloodroot, dwarf ginseng and foamflower. I still can't figure out their order because at exactly "spring woodland ephemeral" time, I'm usually happily hiking all over southern Ontario between places where the bloom times might be different by five days.
I'm grateful to whoever chose to plant my street with Silver Maples. I know they were a popular street tree all over the city ("were" = now some of the urban forestry and hydro guys complain that they overmature too fast, are too brittle, drop limbs, too much debris), but they're especially appropriate to this area, and what it was: the backwater of the former Ashbridges Bay, Lake Ontario. Despite the area since being landfilled, these trees are appropriate to what this area's buried soils and gullies and hydrology and high water table still are. "Silver maple appears as a dominant species only in streamside communities or on the fringes of lakes or backwaters of streams. Occasionally it is found in swamps, gullies, and small depressions of slow drainage. Though it generally cannot compete with other species in upland environments, silver maple seedlings are adapted to survive long periods of inundation in bottom lands, where flooding is one of the factors that determine the makeup of individual stands..." Read the source of that quote here, it's a good one. Just how water-edge adapted are Silver Maples? Check out this pic (above right) from U of Wisconsin's Herbarium.
The Silver Maples' second act is the helicopter show. All June long. Yup. Tip: if your garden is already well mulched w/ leaves and wood chip or bark mulch, most of the keys will just decompose to become mulch themselves. Then later i just pull out any seedlings that did germinate.
Silver Maples' third act? A subtle sleeper: a breezy, big and balmy, sweet summer song.
It took me years to recognize it, but the sound of warm summer winds swirling around the leaves of big old Silver Maple is one my best childhood memories. Especially in concert with the leaves of willows and cottonwoods. All shoreline species. If you don't know those sounds, come a warm day in summer, they're worth a listen.
Myself, I'm so used to hearing all of those leaves along water edges and shorelines -- creek, riverbank, bay, beach -- on cue I can imagine a common concurrent sound: the slow rhythm of waves: crestfall or gentler lick-and-lap. Pause. Swash back out. repeat.
Sometimes even now, when I'm in those sounds, for split seconds I am 3, 5, 9, 12 or 15 (often all-of-them-at-once), sun/mud/silt-browned, forearms sparkled with sand, my barefoot and bathing suited body is small and close to the ground, running along southwestern Ontario water edges and shorelines. The wind smells of small fires, fish (pickerel, perch, catfish, sunfish and the throw-'em-back sheephead: unless we kept the "j" stones / otoliths from behind their eyes for good luck) and some times charcoal from a hibatchi BBQ. Salamanders, turtles, muskrats were common sights.
Cool ground on my back when I'd lay down under those trees, those leaves, half closing my eyes so i could look up into the changing blurs of dappled sunlight. What a lullabye that seems now.
Funny now, how I had to move all the way to this street in Toronto, to learn for the first time that "Silver Maples" was the name for a windsong I had already always known.