Northland Nature: This is red maples' flowering time
It's late April, and the pace of spring happenings has been speeding up. We now have a sunset after 8 p.m. and the days are reaching fourteen hours of light. Late April can still be cold. Snow is not unheard of, but the trend is now rapidly towards warmer and milder days of spring. Greening is progressing and I see lots more green shoots among the lawn grasses as I walk by. In the woods, mosses continue their new growth at the bases of trees. Buds of elderberry have swollen and tell of opening their compound leaves as we enter May.
Also in the yard is the arrival of the next batch of migrants. Unlike the first songbirds to head north, this next group is largely insect eaters. Hermit thrushes move across the lawn. Yellow-rumped warblers, beginners of the huge warbler migration to come, flit among the branches. A phoebe calls from the barn. A tree swallow maneuvers for insects in mid air while a yellow-bellied sapsucker drills and dines in available trees.
Migrants that came by earlier are now more likely to sing. As I walk, I hear songs of red-winged blackbirds, robins and song sparrows.
But it is not just the birds that are singing and calling now. About a week ago, a trio of frog species began to add their sounds from the newly formed ponds. Thanks to the winter snowpack and recent rains, the ponds are full and these eager amphibians take advantage of this space. Creaking chorus frogs, clucking wood frogs and piercing spring peepers use songs to mix mating with claiming home sites. They will be joined by more kinds as we get into May, but now this trio begins the frog vernal vocals.
Walking among these antics of birds and frogs, I'm out here looking for the early spring wildflowers. Each year the first to bloom is regularly the hepatica. With three-parted leaves that remain on the plant all winter, it opens its six petals of white, light blue or purple. It is easy to pass them by, but trees flower here, too.
They began with catkins of alders. These long hot-dog shaped floras were followed by catkins of hazels, aspens and willows. But the ones that I take note of now are the flowers of red maples.
Its cousin, the silver maple, was the first tree to open flowers other than catkins. It did so a couple of weeks ago.
In a similar pattern, red maples are now in bloom. These large trees hold either red flowers of the female or tan ones of the males. (Occasionally, some trees have both.) When we think of red maples, we are most likely to remember the bright red leaves of autumn.
But taking a close look at their minute blossoms out on the branches of the female trees now, we see that though the floral arrangement is small, it is also bright red. These female blossoms are known as pistillate flowers. Male trees produce pollen in capsules called anthers on thin filaments. These flowers are called staminate.
As it is with the female trees, these small flowers are abundant. Pollen drifts from the staminate trees; some reaches the pistillate flora.
Red maple flowers are much like those of the earlier silver maples, but other maples flower in different growths. Sugar maple, Norway maple (introduced, but common), mountain maple and box elder flowers vary greatly.
Yes, much happens in late April and red maples now add color to the trees as they grow into spring.