Pennsylvania Game News - March 2012 - 53
The Naturalist’s Eye
By Marcia Bonta
Today, red maples grow from sea level to 3,000 feet, and from swamps and bogs to dry mountaintops.
OMETIME IN MID-MARCH, after the eastern phoebes have returned, the buds on our red maple tree turn a deeper scarlet, adding welcome color to our forest. Shortly thereafter I catch the faint scent of their opening red and orange flowers. The clusters of dangling, bell-shaped red flowers with red forked tongues (stigmas) are female, while the orange blossoms fringed with long yellow stamens that resemble old-fashioned shaving brushes are male. Seen through a hand lens, the blossoms are lovely. At a distance their orange, red and yellow combination is a pale reflection of autumnal color. Whole hillsides, especially in northern Pennsylvania, glow with their spring tints and signal that once again spring has truly arrived, even though they blossom when night temperatures are still below freezing. Some trees are male, some are female,
A Celebration of Red
and some are both male and female, although in the latter case the male and female flowers are on separate side branches. For the most part, red maples are windpollinated, but that faint odor I detect also attracts early pollinating insects. Red maples, seemingly in a hurry to bloom ahead of other tree species, also flower before they leaf out, so that the leaves won’t block the movement of pollen from male to female flowers. A month after pollination, the female flowers have matured into dark red, double samaras, or winged fruits more popularly known as “keys,” “helicopters” or “whirligigs.” Each wing contains a seed that our chipmunks and gray and fox squirrels seem eager to consume after a long, hard winter, especially if the previous fall’s acorn crop was sparse. The red maple, Acer rubrum, which means “red maple,” was named by the Swedish taxonomist, Carl Linnaeus, back in the 18th century. His student, Peter