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Following A Tree

May 10, 2015

red mapleThis month I am joining Lucy’s tree-following meme at Loose and Leafy. I was inspired both by other bloggers’ posts about the trees they are  following and by a six-week course on the “Forests and Fields of Maine” that I recently completed. Unlike many other gardeners, I don’t have trees planted in my garden; rather, my home is on land carved out of the forest and my garden is surrounded by trees. Choosing which of my hundreds of trees to follow would have been difficult if the instructor of my Fields and Forests course had not noted one day that she would like to undertake a closer study of the red maple (Acer rubrum) because it is such a common tree in our Maine landscape.

So, with her encouragement, I am choosing to follow an Acer rubrum. There are many trees of this species in my woods, but I chose one that grows beside the driveway for two reasons: First, it is the largest of my red maple trees. Second, when I look out my large bedroom window from the bed, this tree fills the view. It is the first thing I see when I open my eyes in the morning and the last thing I see before I go to sleep at night, making it a major presence in my life.

The first thing you might notice about this tree is that, like almost all the deciduous trees on my property, it has multiple trunks. I have learned from Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels (Countryman Press, 1997) that the presence of all these multiple-trunked trees is a sign that my land was once cleared, probably for pasture (since the land was previously part of a farm). The four existing trunks would have sprouted from the stump left behind after logging.  Given the size of the existing tree, I’m guessing that its predecessor was cut down many decades ago. That tree must have been a mature specimen because the circumference of the existing cluster of trunks suggest that old tree was about 3 feet in diameter, which is large for a red maple. red maple trunks

red maple flowersIn early May, the deciduous trees have not leafed out yet, but red maples are among the first trees to bloom. Their crimson flowers make them easy to distinguish from the other six varieties of maple trees that grow in Maine, all of which have yellow-green flowers. There were no flowers growing close enough to the ground for me to get a good picture of, but these spent flowers in the driveway provide some sense of the color, shape and size. Even without being able to distinguish individual flowers, the sight of those red-flowered canopies against a blue spring sky can be very striking.

red maple flowering canopy

We have been having unusually warm weather for the past week, with the result that the flowers are fading fast on my maple tree and new leaves have begun to appear. By the time we return to this tree next month, it will be fully leafed out.

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31 Comments leave one →
  1. May 10, 2015 3:56 pm

    Is that why it is called a red maple? I’ve never noticed the flowers on mine… but they are quite young still.

    • May 10, 2015 9:31 pm

      Jack, It’s always hard to know for sure how plants get their common names, but the red flowers seem the most likely explanation for this one being called a “red maple.” Unlike the Japanese red maples, which have red-purple leaves, the leaves on Acer rubrum are green; and I don’t believe that the lumber from these trees has a reddish color.

  2. May 10, 2015 6:43 pm

    It will be interesting to learn more about your first and last sight of the day. My tree following has faded, but the carob has flowers, with a funky scent.
    Your red maple is a stately beauty!

    • Lucy Corrander permalink
      May 11, 2015 3:47 am

      Diana – we’re missing you!

    • May 12, 2015 7:29 pm

      Diana, I know how moving and major house renovations can lead to other things fading! As you regain control of your life, I hope you’ll get back to your tree following.

  3. debsgarden permalink
    May 10, 2015 8:30 pm

    This is an interesting post. I did not know about multiple trunks being a sign of previously cleared land. The red maple is a lovely tree. When you described your garden as being surrounded by trees, I actually thought of my situation. My own house and the lawn in front are surrounded by woodland. In my case I have chosen to put most of my garden actually in the woods, as a protection from our fierce summer sun.

    • May 12, 2015 7:33 pm

      Deb, At one point, I considered creating a path through the woods and a woodland garden on the model of yours (I was looking at your photos and coveting your garden), but I gave up the idea for several reasons. Fierce summer sun is hardly an issue in my climate, and I’ve decided to leave the woods around my house as wild. I still may create a woodland garden along the wooded side of the driveway, where this tree is located.

  4. May 11, 2015 12:52 am

    Enjoyed your post, such wonderful photos and information.

    • May 12, 2015 7:35 pm

      Charlie, I have found garden blogging provides me with motivation to augment my science education. I’m hoping that I can research some aspect of my tree (like those multiple trunks) each month.

  5. May 11, 2015 1:48 am

    Welcome to the meme, Jean. I’ve enjoyed it very much and have learned a lot about my tree last year and this, and about other people’s trees as well. A friend gave me Tom Wessel’s book — I found it very informative and liked the drawings too.

    • May 12, 2015 7:37 pm

      Pat, You are one of the bloggers whose posts inspired me to join this meme — so thank you. I read the Wessels book one chapter a day; and after I read each chapter, I would go walk around in my woods and see things I had been blind to before.

      • May 13, 2015 2:14 am

        Jean, thank you for letting me know that my tree posts inspired you to join the meme. That’s really good to know. I plan to re-read Wessels book this summer. There is a lot to absorb.

  6. Lucy Corrander permalink
    May 11, 2015 3:47 am

    So pleased you have decided to join us in following a tree. I, like Deb, have already learned from you that multiple trunks are a clue to how land has been used in the past.
    I’ve added you, your blog and your tree to the Loose and Leafy Tree Following Page
    http://looseandleafy.blogspot.co.uk/p/what-is-tree-following-and-list-of-tree.html
    Perhaps you would check it’s all correct?

    • May 12, 2015 7:39 pm

      Lucy, Thank you again for hosting this meme; it’s inspiring. That information about the multiple trunks was a revelation to me, too, and gave me a new way to look at my property.
      The information you have listed about me on your tree-following page is correct.

  7. May 11, 2015 8:32 am

    Jean, what impressed me the most is that noticing trees through all of the seasons is something that we have always done. With technology, how wonderful it is to document a single tree and then share that tree with the rest of the world. It sounds as if you are enjoying your view. 🙂

    • May 12, 2015 7:51 pm

      Kevin, I am enjoying the view, and also this opportunity to look more closely at a single tree. I tend to look at my property and see “the woods” or what is happening with a particular species of tree (e.g., the chartreuse fringe of new growth on hemlocks in early summer), but I haven’t been in the habit of looking closely at individual trees. Already, it’s a revelation. And following this one tree is also getting me to look more closely at others, like that triple-trunked red oak outside my study window.

  8. May 11, 2015 2:25 pm

    I remember how surprised I was when I first discovered that some maples bloomed. Yours looks glorious against that beautiful blue sky.

    • May 12, 2015 7:53 pm

      Kris, I do love the sight of all those crimson flowers telling me that spring has really and truly arrived. Already, those flowers are gone, and the canopy of the red maple trees are yellow-orange with new leaves and developing seed pods.

  9. May 11, 2015 3:10 pm

    It’s indeed is a great idea to follow a tree to learn about the landscape the tree is planted, I love maples and reading your posts will help me understan better the species. Thanks!

    • May 12, 2015 7:56 pm

      Lula, I love maples, too — probably because they are the trees associated with the most brilliant autumn color in New England. The fall foliage is what first attracted me to this large maple tree.

  10. May 11, 2015 4:14 pm

    I enjoyed your post. Your information about the multiple-trunked trees is very interesting! The fact that the land was cleared of many apparently large-sized trees, then allowed to grow back — that says that there must be some sort of interesting history about your plot of land.

    • May 12, 2015 8:29 pm

      Anna, The history of my land is the history of the state of Maine in microcosm. When the first European settlers arrived, the land was almost entirely forested. During the 19th century, much of it was cleared, for agriculture and for timber harvest, so that there is little old-growth forest left here. By the end of the 19th century, agriculture was on the decline (partly as a result of overgrazing from sheep farming), and abandoned farms reverted to forest. Today, Maine is the most heavily forested state in the continental United States.

  11. May 12, 2015 8:58 pm

    Such a lovely thing to have to look at every morning, a beautiful tree like that. Lovely post.

    • May 13, 2015 3:26 pm

      Diane, I am surrounded by lovely trees to look at. Since the weather has gotten warm, I have been eating many of my meals out on my new front porch, which brings some previously overlooked trees into focus.

  12. May 13, 2015 8:01 am

    The red flowers on red maples are actually one of my favorites for early spring and they last a long time.

    • May 13, 2015 3:28 pm

      Carolyn, They didn’t last very long here this year, since we only had two days between the day that the snow finished melting and the day it got up into the 80s for the first time. After a winter that seemed like it would never end, the trees are leafing out ahead of schedule.

  13. May 13, 2015 9:23 am

    Oh I am thrilled you are joining and you chose a wonderful native tree. we rarely see them though, but many people plant them in their landscape as they grow fast. Fascinating why the trees have the multiple trunks. My silver maples actually have red flowers too and bloom first much like your red maple. I look forward to learning so much more from you about this treasured tree!

    • May 14, 2015 9:42 pm

      Donna, I didn’t realize that silver maples could have red flowers too. We’ve both learned something new. 🙂

  14. May 13, 2015 6:56 pm

    Hello Jean, most of our trees are Scotts Pine and Beech, planted in a row to form the rear boundary. Interesting fact about the multi-stemmed trees from previously cleared land, it makes sense when you think about it but it’s not something that would occur to me to think about. We’re in full tree-pollen season here right now and everything is coated with a fine dust of yellow – even the washing if left out too long!

    • May 14, 2015 9:43 pm

      Sunil, I had a lot of trouble with tree pollen when I spent springs further south in Pennsylvania — but spring happens so quickly here that the high-pollen period is over and gone before you barely have time to sneeze!

  15. May 17, 2015 4:28 pm

    Interesting, I never realized that large maples could grow multiple trunks, but the explanation makes sense.

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