A flowering tree?


My nose itches. My eyes water. The maples must be in bloom.

This is not some exotic variety, but the native Swamp or Red maple (Acer rubrum, below). They’re everywhere, and there are a good number in the narrow swath of forest that runs along the southern border of my garden. The shallow roots make digging a chore, and they sap any available moisture to justify this space as really, really dry shade.Maple flowers

Though the roots are reviled , the shade is mostly appreciated, and beneath these towering trees are dozens of hellebores and hostas, hydrangeas, and shrubs that grow despite the thin, root infested soil. In theory, the main attraction of red maples relative to other shade trees is the red autumn foliage color, but in reality the forest trees are more likely to turn a sad yellow rather than red. Only nursery grown clones exhibit consistently exceptional autumn foliage, but today’s concern is that all red maples flower in early spring before the leaves emerge.

Red maple seeds

And this is when the trouble starts. Pollen levels are typically low when maples are flowering in March, but no matter, this particular pollen is the one that gets me. The flowers of red maple are small, and there are not enough of them to make much of a show (and to produce more pollen). But, the blooms are quite lovely, and if they were more abundant, the flowers would be a more notable attraction.

Just like everything else in this cold spring, the maples are flowering several weeks later than usual, and this will slightly delay the annual seed crop that litters the garden. The seeds twirl to the ground (above) like descending helicopters, and darned if it doesn’t seem that every single one germinates. If seedlings were not removed the forest would quickly consume the garden, so this is a regular part of spring maintenance.Fernleaf maple in mid April

Red maples are not the only trees to seed themselves about the garden, but some seedlings are more welcomed. Japanese maples flower (Fernleaf maple, above) just like the larger growing maples, though many of the blooms are larger and more evident on the smaller trees. The seedlings also germinate at a high rate, so there are often many dozens of Japanese maple seedlings that must be removed or transplanted into pots to give away. In recent years I’ve run out of acquaintances to give seedlings to, and since there’s no space for more trees in this garden they are plucked out and discarded along with the red maples.

Thankfully, the pollen from Japanese maples, with far fewer trees and flowers, is not so much of a problem for this gardener, who must suffer through spring clean up, no matter the challenges. The native red maples are problem enough.

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