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girl stuff

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As we know, my ash tree is a boy. He's made his pollen-y flowers and I'm guessing he's all done with his part in the flower-fruit-seed process. Since he doesn't have much to tell me about the other half of the process, I thought I'd take a walk down the street and visit the girl ash tree to see what she's up to.

When I last took some pictures of her flowers (on May 3rd), they looked like little green tadpoles - round head, skinny tail - with curly tongues coming out of them - which I assume was some female flower part reaching out to catch pollen.


Two weeks later on the 17th, the female flowers looked like this:


Some of those tadpole heads now have a single short green leaf growing out of them. Even the flowers on the bottom right of the picture look like they are starting to elongate, with a tiny leaf tip beginning to protrude from the circular head. I think the tadpole head is really the ovary of the flower and these new leaves are actually the fruit of the ash tree. I remember from the tree id book we looked at last month that the fruit of the ash tree is a single samara (the maple tree fruit is a double samara, so think half of one of those!).

Thumbnail image for thetreebook4.jpg

This looks about right. Long finger-like flowers (which frustratingly seem to be mislabeled here as the male flowers) develop into the long single-winged samaras. The book says, "It looks like a tiny airplane propeller and grows in clusters on female trees." Here are the propellers just four days later on May 21st:


And some new ones starting to develop:


The close-up pictures reveal a sort of ugly, brown blob at the spot where the round head/ovary of the flower is swelling up. The fruit seems to be growing from the side or from under this. Here are some just breaking out of these brown shells.


Ick, they're starting to look like bugs to me! I'm sorry to say this to my girlfriend ash tree, but whole bunches of these really are kind of nasty looking.


I hadn't expected fruit development to look so messy. At first, I thought there was some kind of dirt or gunk stuck on the flowers. Maybe it was the pollen? But the samaras in the top right of the picture look much cleaner and neater. I guess the flowers/fruit in the front are simply in that awkward tween stage.

from seed to maple tree

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This week I went looking for a book to help me answer some of my questions about the keys on my maple tree. I found From Seed to Maple Tree by Laura Purdie Salas, which is one book in a series of books for kids on different life cycles, including From Seed to Apple Tree, From Seed to Pine Tree, From Caterpillar to Butterfly, and From Tadpole to Frog.


I found the book in our local library. It's one of a dozen or so kids books that explain the basics of how trees develop. I found the pictures most appealing in this book. Jeff Yesh is the illustrator for the entire the Life Cycle series and his pictures are big and bright, filling the whole page with color.

Salas begins by telling us that trees have life cycles too just like the animals.


Every tree starts as a seed.


The maple tree, she tells us, grows about 1 foot each year and is called a seedling until it is 2 meters tall. After 30-40 years it becomes a mature tree. Its growth slows down and it begins to produce flowers. (Note: the maple tree in this book is a sugar maple, so its flowers look a little different from the bright green flowers that appeared on my Norway maple.)


From Salas's description, it seems that the sugar maple is a monoecious tree, which means that one tree will have both male and female flowers. In fact, one flower may have both male and female parts. (After doing a little research, I found out that the Norway maple is like the ash tree and can be either monoecious or dioecious.) However the boy and girl flowers are arranged, pollen from the male parts is brought over to the female parts, with a little help from the birds and the bees, and you get fruit!


The book confirms that these little winged helicopter thingies are indeed the fruit of the maple tree. In the sugar maple, you can really see the two seeds in the large green section of the samara. The Norway maple fruit is a little different. It's all green and, as we discovered a couple of weeks ago, has a wider wingspan. Here's a picture one of the hundreds that have recently fallen off of the tree in front of my house.


Salas explains that the maple fruit ripens on the tree and should fall from the tree in the fall. This makes me think that the samaras falling from all the Norway maples around me aren't ripe yet. Someone should tell them that, because they are everywhere! Apparently, the seeds need to hide in the fallen leaves to keep from being eaten by squirrels and birds.


The book also explains that the seed has a better chance of developing into a new tree when it flies away from the parent tree. It seems to me that most seeds just fall straight down and so I've often wondered why there aren't just a million little baby trees under each mature tree. It turns out that the parent tree is using up all the nutrients in the soil right there, so the seed needs to travel somewhere else to find a place with enough water and food to grow. And then the cycle can begin again.

And now I've got to share with you the coolest website I found while looking for some info on tree flowers and fruit. It's Bob's Brain on Botany and is full of amazing, close-up pictures of tree flowers, including the sugar maple and the Norway maple. There's also a whole page with pictures of tree droppings (Yay, I love tree droppings!). Finally, he has an amazing section on tree flowers and fruit...

from Ohioense: Bob's Brain on Botany

... which includes everything you ever wanted to know about flower sex and an overview of a variety of different tree fruits -- all with cool roll-over graphics! I'm off to learn more....

maple keys

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There are no more maple flowers to be found on the Norway maples around our house. At the beginning of the month, I noticed that as the leaves were starting to grow, the flowers were dropping and turning into the little winged helicopter keys we associate with maples. Now, in the middle of May, there are only maple keys hiding under the large canopy of leaves.


They look almost like bats all huddled together, hanging from a green ceiling. Last week, the ones on the lowest branches looked like they were ready to fly.


And once the rain began, fly they did.


Straight down.

So what are these keys? My guide to all things tree, What Tree is It?, referred to the keys when distinguishing maples according to their fruit. So, that means that the keys are the fruit of the tree. Wait a minute. Apparently you don't have to be a fruit tree to make fruit! By watching the trees, I've come to realize that all trees make flowers (even if some of them do look like koosh balls) and now it seems that all trees make fruit. What sort of fruit is this though? It's clearly not the kind of fruit you can pick and eat. I think it's more of a "be fruitful and multiply" type of fruit, as in it's all about reproduction. As far as I understand it, the female part of the flower, once pollinated, turns into the fruit, which holds the seed. So does that mean that pollination is all done here? Are these seeds all set to make new maple trees? Already? In May? A mere month after the flowers even appeared? That seems fast to me. Hmmmm....

maple leaves

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One week ago, Bud - the little maple tree in front of our house - was just starting to sprout leaves. I was surprised to see them come out of the same buds that had produced all the fabulous tiny green flowers.


A few days later, I took a peek at the maple down the street where we park our car. It's generally been about a week ahead of Bud, so I was hoping to find some real leaves. And there they were, all shiny and new. They've got that classic maple leaf shape too!


So I knew there would be lovely maple leaves on Bud this week. This morning I went out on the balcony to get a close look at Bud and was not disappointed.


Not only is the leaf fully formed, but the flowers have started to sprout or change into the maple "key" seeds (you know, those helicopter shaped seeds that spin down from the tree). I wonder if all of the flowers will produce these keys?

I was curious about other maples, so I went back to visit a maple I'd spotted on the playground a couple of weeks ago. It's not a Norway maple like Bud or the tree by our parking space. I knew this because it was so red! It still looked like a maple though. The buds looked exactly the same and the flowers were very similar. But where Bud is bright and cheery in lime green, this reddish maple was simply stunning.


Two weeks later and it looks like this:


Oh my, all the red's gone. There's a definite maple leaf though and some maple keys. Right next to this maple was another with gorgeous winged keys coming off of bright red stems.


A quick look at the What Tree is It? site (can you tell that I love that site??) helped me see the key difference (ha, ha, I made a tree pun) between these two types of maples: the distance between the two wings of the key.


The Norway maples have wings that are widely separated, whereas the playground maples have wings that are quite close to one another. What tree is it? says that would make my mystery trees on the playground bona fide red maples!

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the fruit category.

flowers is the previous category.

galls and sticky burrs is the next category.

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