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Maples take wing!

by William (Ned) Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum
September 25, 2015


Maples take wing!

With roughly 60 species of maples in the living collections of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, you can see more than sugar, red, or silver maples on any given visit.  While maple flowers are incredibly beautiful and incredibly small (hence not a “destination” for spring flowering – however I will argue their case next spring), the fall colors of maples can be overwhelming.  But, between flowering and the arrival of fall colors, there is one additional feature of maples that is very much worth observing: their fruits.

The wings of maple fruits (samaras) are amazing in terms of the diversity of colors (reds, pinks, greens, tans, shades of brown), textures, and subtle aspects of shape. At times, these fruits look ready to fly away, their wings resembling the wings of some imaginary insect (or perhaps vice versa). At other times, sunlight filtering through the wings makes the tree glow bright red from hundreds of points.

Although many maple species ripened and shed their samaras months ago, a number of our maples are just now hitting their peak. To the right is a sampling of what can see with a close look at the maples. Acer palmatum forma atropurpureum, red leaf Japanese maple (22717*A), in June.  This week, Acer opalus ssp. obtusatum, Bosnian maple 1371-71*A), and Acer platanoides ‘Dissectum,’ a cultivar of Norway maple (427-39*B) with beautiful dissected leaves, have been in prime form.

If you would like to see more maple samara pictures, go to the new Arnold Arboretum Plant Image Database and type “Friedman” and “Acer” into the Search Box.  There you will find fruit images of Acer rufinerve (Honshū maple – Japan), Acer stachyophyllum (China), Acer rubrum (red maple – eastern North America), Acer griseum (paperbark maple – China), and Acer pseudosieboldianum (Korean maple – Korea, China, Russia).

With so many species of maples at the Arboretum, I have plenty more samaras to photograph in the coming years.

-Ned Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum

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