Monday, October 19, 2009

Red maples in fall

The red maple is so well-named.

From its red flowers and fruits of spring,

to its scarlet red leaves in fall, this tree is cloaked in red.

The red maple is a bit overshadowed by its close cousin, the sugar maple. The sugar maple's sweet sap is tapped each spring to make maple syrup. Its wood is sought for floors, cabinets, and furniture. People flock to New England in the fall to see hillsides of sugar maples decked in brilliant orange-yellow leaf color. And Canada has a red sugar maple leaf on its flag!

Sugar maple leaf (left); Red maple leaf (right)

If you look about though, you will see that red maple is really the dominant one. Red maple is one of the most common and widespread trees in the East. It grows in shade or sun and occurs in many, many different habitats. Perhaps it is best known as a "swamp maple" for its fondness for wetlands, edges of sluggish streams, and other wet spots. Red maple also grows on dry ridges, ridge tops, rocky or sandy slopes, and just about anywhere.

Red maple is one of the first trees to flower in the spring and one of the first to start turning in the fall. By late summer the swamp reds have turned the wetlands scarlet. The early turners drop their leaves early. Other red maples are still changing in mid-October, brilliant in their reds, greens, and yellows, like the flags of Bolivia or Mali. The multicolored patterns, like snowflakes, unique to each leaf.

Individual trees stand like colorful bouquets
amid a greenery of pine, oak, and hemlock.

Red maple is considered an inferior lumber tree by some, prompting the name "soft maple" (sugar maple is considered a "hard maple"). Some day red maple will be popular. Its good looks in the fall and scarlet blossoms in spring are good enough for me. And its "softness" makes for good nesting cavities for nuthatches, chickadees, and woodpeckers.

The reds in our backyard, Fall 2008

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