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a walk among the trees: fall edition

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There are a lot of changes going on out there these days! Time to check in on the neighborhood trees.

The big, beautiful ash tree down the street has gone from this...

September 22nd this...

October 10th this...

October 16th

You can tell that things are really starting to speed up now. The change in the last six days is quite dramatic.

Our girl ash down the street also looks quite different.

Here she was two weeks ago:

September 28th

And last week:

October 10th

And just this past weekend:

October 16th

She's lost all of her leaves! All that's left on the tree is the fruit. And she's also lost her low-lying branches that I had so often photographed. Yes, the men with pointy sticks have been back, diligently pruning back all the trees I've been following! Grrrrr.

Then there's the maple I spotted by my kids' school. It turned bright red early on.

September 22nd

See the lower leaves that were still green back in September? Well, those are all that's left on the tree now!

October 16th

The chestnut tree I've been watching still has plenty of leaves, but it has been dropping stuff like gangbusters!

chestnuts and chestnut leaves

Even the slow oaks seem to have picked up the pace.

October 16th

And the slowest of all, the kooky honey locusts, are finally getting in on the fall fun.

October 16th

Better late than never!

we all fall down

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Look at all the leaves that have fallen off the girl ash tree down the street! She's looking pretty bare these days.


But she is still holding on to that fruit!


Unlike the ash, the maples are beginning to let their samaras fall.


And I've even spotted a few chestnuts on the ground!


The chestnut leaves are soooooo brown and shriveled now!


And the maple leaves are looking pretty yucky too.


Which makes me wonder: which goes first the seeds or the leaves? My girl ash tree is all about dumping her leaves right now, but she's still got her fruit, whereas the maples and the chestnut aren't dropping that many leaves, but the fruit is starting to go. Why drop your leaves first? Why hold on to them? Do maple seeds ripen faster than ash tree seeds? Do maple leaves last longer than ash tree leaves?

Even the honey locusts, which were so late to get leaves, are finally acknowledging the arrival of fall. I've spotted some yellow leaves up in the canopy.


And some below!


So that only leaves the oak still blissfully unaware and green as can be.


But we know that these leaves too shall fall.

it's fall, do you know what your tree is doing?

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So on this first day of fall, we know what the ash trees are up to but what about the other trees? 

Well, the maples, which have revealed themselves to be among the first trees to respond to the changing seasons, are really progressing. One maple at the boys' school is almost entirely red!


Why is this tree so red? Does a small tree change faster? What gets a tree going earlier than other trees? Earlier even than other maple trees? And what causes a tree to turn red instead of yellow? Is it very individual, like hair color or eye color? Or is it more closely related to the tree species? Maybe this specific maple species turns really red. Hmm.....

The oak trees were among the last to get started growing leaves in the spring. And, no surprise, they are still as green as they have been all summer. I had to look hard to find these three dead leaves on an oak by the park.


So I'm sensing a pattern here. Early to rise, early to bed. The trees that grew leaves early in the spring are changing colors earlier in the fall. Am I right?

The kooky honey locusts are also still very green. (Hey, they were also very late getting their leaves!) But while their leaves are still green, the seedpods are turning dark yellow and look like they are drying out. They kind of remind me of snake skin after the snake is done molting.


And then there's the chestnut that's been looking like camouflage for the last couple of weeks. Some of the leaves are now completely red and curled up.


Are those ready to drop?!

What are the trees in your neighborhood doing?

the early tree

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The maples around us were the first to start flowering in the spring. It seems they will be the first to start changing in the fall as well. Wanna watch?

Here's a picture I took of a maple on August 1st, shortly after we got back from our vacation in Germany. I was checking in on the progress of the keys and didn't notice any color changes in the leaves.


By August 16th, the wings on the keys had turned a golden brown and the green in the leaves had started to fade as well.



On August 26th, I spotted brown edges on some of the maple leaves.


And this morning, when I sent my boys off on their first day of school, there was even more brown.


Oh yes, change, it is a comin'.

red or green

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Since the spring, my daughter and I have enjoyed watching the development of the Japanese maple that we always pass on our walk to the library. It has always stood out because of its reddish maroon color. In early June, the leaves looked like this.


And those tiny red things which look like teensy flowers, are actually the keys just starting to grow. So cute!

When we walked by the tree on our first trip to the library since our return, we almost didn't recognize it....


It's all green now!


Hmm....while my ash tree's new twig growth changed from green to gray and the girl ash tree's leaves are changing from green to yellow, this tree's gone green. I wonder how its leaves will change in the fall. Will they turn back to red?

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!

maples in bloom

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About a week ago, I showed you a few pictures of some trees in the neighborhood just starting to bloom. A tree near our parking space had some lettuce-y green stuff coming out of its buds and the buds on our sad little tree, Bud, had started to turn green.


After watching these two trees closely for the past week, I've realized that they are the same type of tree! Two days later, Bud's little buds started opening.


Two days later...


And then two days after that, there was the lettuce!


It turns out the lettuce is flowers. Little green flowers.


Bud is covered with them today.


His brother tree down the street, who was so far ahead with the lettuce, is still in the lead with scores of these green flower bundles.


I have decided that these are maples, Norway maples. It's mostly a guess, from Bud's opposite branching pattern, little brown buds, and the fact that the most common street tree in our town is the Norway maple.

Fun fact: The town's tree inventory states that 21% of Brookline's street trees are Norway maples. Only 4 1/2% are ash trees like mine!

spring is all around

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More sun and more rain means more green! Our sad little tree in front of the house has started to change. The buds were reddish before last week, but now they're opening up to reveal a golden green.


By our parking space, this tree seems to be sprouting lettuce!


And my daughter spotted this in a nearby sidewalk cutout.


There used to be a tree in this spot, but it was removed about 5 years ago and the town didn't replace it. Looks like someone planted some bulbs in there this year.

My daughter and I have been looking for signs of spring during our regular visits to the zoo and this week we noticed that a magnolia tree had burst into bloom practically overnight.


I took a picture of this same tree just two weeks ago: buds closed.


Now, there are humongous flowers.


The back is even cooler. You can see how the bud opened up to reveal the flower.


Look, it's even hiding an early green leaf back here!

Next to the tree, one of the zoo's peacocks was showing off his spring green too.


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About this Archive

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

leaves is the previous category.

meet the tree is the next category.

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