17 March 2010

Bud Burst: Silver Maples

Silver Maple female flowers (left) with pollen on them
from male flowers (right)

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.

"...Down the rivers of the windfall light ...I ran my heedless ways ...Time held me green and dying / Though I sang in my chains like the sea" -Dylan Thomas, Fern Hill.

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.


Rosemary said...

Interesting. I was wondering why some of the maples in my neighbourhood had both yellow and red flowers.

BTW, where in Toronto can I see hepaticas? They were always the first flowers of spring in our woods when I was a kid, and I really miss them.

native plant girl said...

Hi Rosemary :) that's a good question. in toronto, i only see hepaticas in gardens. if you get from the NANPS sale (i think i saw you there last year... next time that happens I'll try not to be shy and say hi) or a native plant nursery, they do grow easy. they must be around here though, i'll keep my eyes out for them. (in natural areas, i'm usually down in norfolk county when i see them). i truly love them too... they're the first first flowers in my own garden, love their baby-fuzz new leaves too :)

which woods did you grow up near?

Steve S said...

Hepaticas are only found in the best remnant woods now. Few if any left in the city (probably stolen out of the woods by gardeners). You can still find them in the best parts of the moraine woodlots north of the city.

If they're easy to grow, why doesn't anyone? They're always hard to find even in the best nurseries.

I love silvers too, but so many people plant them everywhere because they survive nearly everywhere, and we lose the sense of where they grow naturally. The freemans they plant now are a red-fall leaved cultivar probably from the US. Local natural freemans have yellow fall colour.

Beautiful story NPG!

native plant girl said...

Hey again Steve and Rosemary :)

about the hepatica:

I know what you mean about hard to find.

I don't know where to get the round-lobed but you can find the sharp lobed hepatica Hepatica acutiloba aka Anemone acutiloba.

Paul Heydon has them at Grow-wild.com $5. If i were to buy more, i'd buy from him. i trust him / his ethics.

Wildflower Farm also has them, $7.95. and weirdly, i see them in the Loblaws garden centres every year too. But who knows where those ones are from / if they were ethically propagated. unfortunately, before i knew better, i got mine from there and i think from Humber Nurseries too (although it's not in their current catalogue). My tags say "grown in canada". Useless.


by easy to grow, i mean, I have 5 (i had a few more but gave them to folks), and 3 are now getting to be big clumps (they don't seem to spread, just clump) from the plants i bought 8 or 9 years ago. part sun woodland (was clay subsoil, but remediated with some sharp sand and A LOT of leaf mulch) and the happy ones each have one side up against some kind of sedimentary stone i can't identify. (maybe that's in tune with one of their habitats being cliff?)

BUT i can't say (yet) if they're easy to grow from seed (i should ask paul). last year was the first and only time i caught the seeds. subtle, look kind of like violet seeds but the seed/fruiting period was really brief, and i had to be vigilante about twice day for at least a week to collect them at maturity. i think that's part of why you don't see many in the nursery trade?

"Seeds should be planted outside immediately after collection. Seeds are hard to collect, so an alternate propagation method is fall division. Clumps, however, are slow to increase. When dividing a clump, it is best to leave 2-3 buds in each division." - http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=HENOA

anyway i collected them late last spring, removed their fatty "ant snack" so the ants wouldn't carry them off, and sowed them ASAP near a different existing clump. I'll see if that works out.


about where hepatica grow in GTA?
i looked at "Vascular Plants of Metropolitan Toronto, 2nd Edition" Compiled by Diana Banville, Toronto Field Naturalists. I don't know the year on it, but it's revised since the 1st edition in 1990.

here's what i found:

sharp-lobed hepatica hepatica acutiloba:
Etobicoke: Centennial Park
Humber: Lambton Woods; Downsview Dells
Don: West Don Valley (uh, what does that mean?)
Highland Creek: Morningside Park
Rouge Valley
Scarborough Bluffs

round-lobed hepatica hepatica americana:
high park and lambton woods in the humber


TRCA says sharp lobed is an L3 and round lobed is an L2. basically, locally uncommon -> rare. and in the nomenclature they now use the "Anemone" instead of "Hepatica" too.

ok, i'm seriously jones-ing for them to bloom now ;). guess i'll have to stay patient 'til april!

Steve S said...

Hepatica changed to Anemone a few years ago. I've never seen round-lobed in the wild, only sharp lobed. We had a couple of sharps planted at Todmorden for several years and they were stolen. They like calcareous soil. We don't plant rare stuff near trails now. Diana's book is good for finding places to look, but often out of date and the plants are gone now. Best guide we have though.

The Flora of North America project made a lot of names change around then. Some also disappeared and were lumped into others as subspecies and varieties. Notice there's no more Acer nigrum, it's a subspecies of A. saccharum now.

M. D. Vaden of Oregon said...

Red maples are abundant in the Portland & Beaverton area. The small flowers are always a treat to watch as they emerge.

Its not like a smoke tree, but sort of reminds me of those, when the red maple gets large with flowers.

MDV - Oregon

Janet said...

Thanks for the beautiful prose - it made me think of the giant swamp maple that lived in my yard where I grew up. It was a massive old tree and a reminder of(more of a monument to) the wetter history of my neighbourhood before it was filled in and built up.

Rosemary said...

Hi NPG, sorry for the delayed response.

I grew up in eastern Ontario. My parents owned 100 acres of wetlands/forest. The hepaticas grew in a area of the forest dominated by deciduous trees, and always in sheltered areas, like the foot of a tree, or next to a log or rock. We had the round-lobed hepaticas, in blue, white, and sometimes pale pink!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License.