Maple Flowers: An Aha Moment (Stillwater Diary)

Red maple flowers, Stone Ridge, NY, 4/2/16

Red maple flowers, Stone Ridge, NY, 4/2/16

I grew up in an unleafy, (then) newish subdivision, just north of the Bronx, which explains (excuses?) a lot. The neighborhood’s landscape was totally manufactured, the original vegetation stripped from the small lots before the small Cape Cod style houses were planted in the dirt. Grass seeds were almost an afterthought for the developer. The new homeowners planted flowers and vegetables, saplings and bushes.

My mother, with a natural aptitude for gardening, chose hedges, forsythia, roses, daffodils, a silver birch and a Japanese maple with rich red leaves. My father, who as a kid, had moved around Brooklyn and the Bronx with his mother and brothers, liked whatever my mother liked, and planted tomatoes.

In the 10 springs I’ve walked in our upstate woods, I’ve seen lacy canopies made of what appear to be newborn red leaves. My identification skills are decent with leaves (bad with bark) but dozens of feet up, the foliage was indistinguishable. And I was puzzled that as the season progressed, the red gave way to green.

Last March, as if the clichéd lightbulb had flashed on above my head, I suddenly realized that the small, red flower-like bits on the banks of and floating in the Groverkill, were indeed flowers (and lovely), fallen from red maples, containing whirligig seeds (the internet says the official name is samaras). For two springs, I’ve been taking pictures of these flowers, wowed by the optimism required to plan to grow up to be a maple tree.

There are two- and four-leaf maple seedlings on the south side of the shed and in the woods. And last weekend small packages of  leaves were opening on tress that had beaten the odds.

Red Maple, Stone Ridge, 4/24/16

Red Maple, Stone Ridge, 4/24/16

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