Monday, April 1, 2013

In bloom: silver maple

Two years ago, a good friend suggested that I provide a guide to which trees are blooming throughout the spring. After two rounds of spring, I think I'm finally ready to give it a shot. Hopefully this will turn into a nice series of articles about the botany and ecology of some of our more prominent trees.

If you live on the Old West Side, you may have noticed that the large silver maples (Acer saccharinum) that were planted in the lawn extensions appear to have thousands of tiny pompoms on their branches. Each of these little pompoms is in fact made up of several tiny silver maple flowers.

Like most wind pollinated tree species, the silver maple deploys its flowers before it leafs out in the spring. This is so that the trees canopy does not interfere with optimal pollen spreading. Also, like many wind pollinated flowers, these ones are not particularly showy. What they lack in showiness, the make up for in audacity. The pompom like appearance of these flowers comes from the fact that they are literally just dangling their male-bits (stamen) in the wind. Again, this helps them spread their pollen farther.

Silver maple is a fast growing tree native to river floodplains. Its seedlings require nearly full sunlight. It flowers so early in the season so that it can quickly grow and disperse its seeds before the canopy closes.


  1. Great post for Spring! Even if it feels like I'm allergic to any and all trees, I appreciate knowing what they are!