Red Maples, Shallow and Sweet

16 Dec

Acer rubrum (Acer is an old name of unclear origin.  Rubrum means red.)

Sapindaceaeae (Aceraceae)

Today John and I achieved an unwitnessed triumph.    In the Kiplinger Nature Preserve we crossed a swamp sufficiently forbidding to hide my retirement-plan meth lab.    Upon achieving the distant shore  we entered a vast yet hidden scrubby flatwoods “island” surrounded by swamp and river, about as remote and inaccessible as it gets in Martin County, Florida.    Lost in the swamp an explorer becomes friendly with Red Maples, the obvious species choice for today.


Fall color on the Palm Beach State College campus

Ranging down to us from northern Canada, Red Maple gives Florida a little nostalgic fall color.    Right now the Maples are nearly leafless with their mid winter flowers nearly due.

Red Maples are about as adaptable as can be, and grow anywhere from high and dry to soggy.  They are predominantly swamp dwellers, especially here in South Florida.  Weirdly, the leaves on those from uplands differ from the lowland foliage.

Whenever you get around trees in a suffocating swampy morass the question must arise:  how do the roots breathe?   Every swamp-tree has its gimmick, and in today’s species the root system is exceptionally widespread,  shallow, and responsive to changing conditions.   According to one study, most of the woody roots snake 40 feet from the trunk within 10 inches of the surface.  From those radiating woody roots millions of clustered non-woody feeder roots rise to 3 inches below the surface able to exchange gases and compete for falling nutrients.  If the soil dries, the tree can “suspend operations” and drop leaves until wetness returns, and then produce a new flush of leaves.


Looks like Michigan in Florida, by John Bradford

Any tree so shallowly rooted is tippy, and they topple plenty, with interesting consequences.  Falling maples leave craters for water-loving swamp life, and the up-tipped muddy root masses becomes decorated by ferns, mosses, liverworts, and pretty green things.  The diehard fallen trunk sprouts several new vertical “trunks” turning one fallen tree into a clonal population all in a neat row.  The more you knock down the more you get!



The tree’s flexibility extends to the tiny red flowers.  Some individual Red Maples are strictly male.  Others are strictly female.   Some have a mix of male and female flowers.   We’ll let somebody else figure out that pattern.

The biwinged whirligig fruits known as samaras flutter in the breeze, and you can accessorize them as a nasal extension.   As is true with some other trees, up north the fruits are smaller and heavier than in warm climates.   Here is a guess:   Where the growing season is short perhaps the tree has to provision each fruit with more baby food to establish robust seedlings before Jack Frost returns.


The fruits by JB

We environmentalists frown on Global Warming.    But Red Maples feel otherwise.  A study at Duke University showed them to benefit from elevated carbon dioxide.    The foliage suffers from a fungal infection.   The fungus enters via the tiny pores (stomates) on the leaves.   Leaves exposed to elevated carbon dioxide constrict the portals and block fungal incursions.    As a degrading environment has bred eastern forest decline, Red Maples have the ecological plasticity to fill the void vacated by oaks, ash, and other besieged trees, and are increasing in prevalence across eastern North America.



Of course, ecologically speaking that transition is bad, but let’s end sweetly.   Red Maples make good maple syrup, so maybe as we destroy the environment we can live on Brazilian Pepper berry bars sweetened with Red Maple syrup. But don’t jump on GoFundMe to launch the Florida syrup industry.   Freezing nights are necessary.


Posted by on December 16, 2016 in Uncategorized


11 responses to “Red Maples, Shallow and Sweet

  1. Felicity Rask

    December 17, 2016 at 6:25 am

    I think I am enjoying my struggle to learn about Florida’s unending collection of native trees and plants until an old friend appears. Then suddenly, here comes a visit from an old and well loved friend and a little nostalgia creeps in. Perhaps fitting for the coming Christmas week? Here’s wishing a “Merry” one to you and your family!

    • George Rogers

      December 17, 2016 at 9:13 am

      Felicity, I’m with you on that nostalgia experience!

  2. Gregory Overcashier

    December 17, 2016 at 6:48 am

    Nothing makes a Saturday morning better than reading one of your “stories” George. (almost nothing) Great read! Let me know when the Lab is up and running I’ll sign on as a simple laborer
    who doesn’t talk much unless fiscally inspired. The nasal extensions would make great camouflage.

    • George Rogers

      December 17, 2016 at 9:10 am

      You’re hired Greg! I can see you are a man of vision as well as fashionable.

  3. theshrubqueen

    December 17, 2016 at 8:19 am

    Red Maple syrup? I never knew. Just thought the world was being taken over by Red Sunset Maples til they started exploding. My fall color is 3 Red Maples at the edge of the Savannas.

    • George Rogers

      December 17, 2016 at 9:14 am

      That’s a good reason to live at the Savannas.

  4. Don (Shooter) Filipiak

    December 17, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Red Maple, my favorite.

    • George Rogers

      December 17, 2016 at 11:11 am

      Your photo of the cypress bases in dry season Cypress Creek amazed me. I’ve been fascinated with exactly the same thing in the same place, and of all the cypress stands in a 30 mile radius those in Cypress Creek strike me as the most beautiful and diverse. You have to be there and see it to feel the magic. As terrific as your photos are…the camera just can’t capture the vibrance, shades of green, odd little plants, sunshne, and smell. So glad somebody else is enjoying it too.

      • Don (Shooter) Filipiak

        December 17, 2016 at 12:28 pm

        Thank you and you’re right. The camera is a poor substitute for being there.

  5. George Rogers

    December 17, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    Canoed through Riverbend today and looked at a million cypress knees. You could mae a photo album of all the variations.

  6. Mike Yustin

    December 19, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Kudos for getting back to that area. Crossing that wetland is no picnic but the reward of making it to the other side is well worth it.


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