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Samaras in the sun

by William (Ned) Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum
December 10, 2018

Acer samaras

Samaras in the sun

Acer samaras

This past week has been an unbroken streak of sunshine and intense blue skies in Boston, with crisp cold temperatures—perfect for extended walks in the Arnold Arboretum. As I wandered in the Maple Collection, one tree took my breath away, an Amur maple, Acer tataricum ssp. ginnala (701-63*E), whose translucent membranous winged fruits (samaras) collectively made the entire tree glow. Almost all of the fruits of this Amur maple still hang by a thread that seems poised to break on the next windy day (lower left image). The beautiful dichotomizing and anastomosing venation of the wings, a reminder of the complexity of small things in nature, is evident in magnificent detail.

I found myself repeatedly drawn to winged fruits this week—those wonderful evolutionary innovations that allow seeds to disperse far from the mother plant with just a current of air. Characteristic of maples, ashes, elms, birches, tulip poplars, and many more, their muted colors are a rainbow of browns, tans, and beiges. As wind-borne fruits (hence the aerodynamic wings), eye-catching color is not important—no need to attract an animal to do the work of moving away from the parent tree.

One thought on “Samaras in the sun

  1. This posting got me right out to look at samaras on the acer buergeranum (an AA-born tree here since the Fall of 2006). Then it was to turn to A Botanist’s Vocabulary to be sure to unlock the meaning of “dichotomizing and anastomosing venation'”

    Thank you for getting me to see more and to learn more.

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