Friday, November 24, 2017

Red maple

I moved to a new neighbourhood in Swindon a couple of weeks back, and immediately got interested in this small crimson-looking tree.  (Photos from 15th November 2017).

It's obviously a kind of maple, and the best match for the leaf shape that I could find is Red Maple (Acer rubrum). 

This is a big tree from eastern North America with an upright habit -- a major constituent, of course, of those famous Fall colors.

In fact it's now the commonest tree in the north-eastern USA, but it was a lot less common when European settlers arrived. This is thought to be because they started to control the wildfires, and that worked in favour of Red Maple (deep-rooted trees like hickories and oak can survive wildfires, but shallow-rooted trees like Red Maple cannot).

(There's also a theory that the 1938 hurricane severely reduced the percentage of White Pine: )

Apart from Red Maple, it's also known as Swamp Maple, Water Maple, and Soft Maple. The latter is comparative: the timber is a bit softer than some other maples, but it's still very much a hardwood.

In Britain, horitculturalists seem to call it Canadian Maple. This is a bit surprising as the maple leaf on the Canadian flag, introduced in 1965,  is often said to be Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum). (In fact the design was stylized and not based on any species in particular).

There are garden cultivars grown in the UK including "Brandywine", "Red Sunset", "October Glory" and "Schlesingeri", but all the images I've seen look more upright than this one. A dazzling sight in mid-November, anyhow.

The leaves are highly toxic to horses, apparently.

Red Maple is one of the three maple species most commonly used to make Maple Syrup (along with Sugar Maple (A. saccharum) and Black Maple (A. nigrum). For the second time in about a week, we are talking about a process that European settlers learnt from Native Americans.

The real attractions of the Hollowell farm, to me, were: its complete retirement, being, about two miles from the village, half a mile from the nearest neighbor, and separated from the highway by a broad field; its bounding on the river, which the owner said protected it by its fogs from frosts in the spring, though that was nothing to me; the gray color and ruinous state of the house and barn, and the dilapidated fences, which put such an interval between me and the last occupant; the hollow and lichen-covered apple trees, gnawed by rabbits, showing what kind of neighbors I should have; but above all, the recollection I had of it from my earliest voyages up the river, when the house was concealed behind a dense grove of red maples, through which I heard the house-dog bark. I was in haste to buy it, before the proprietor finished getting out some rocks, cutting down the hollow apple trees, and grubbing up some young birches which had sprung up in the pasture, or, in short, had made any more of his improvements.   (from Thoreau's Walden, "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For") 

[Thoreau sold back the Hollowell farm when the previous owner decided he wanted it after all, and went to the woods at Walden instead.]

Already, by the first of September, I had seen two or three small maples turned scarlet across the pond, beneath where the white stems of three aspens diverged, at the point of a promontory, next the water. Ah, many a tale their color told! And gradually from week to week the character of each tree came out, and it admired itself reflected in the smooth mirror of the lake. Each morning the manager of this gallery substituted some new picture, distinguished by more brilliant or harmonious coloring, for the old upon the walls.  (from Thoreau's Walden, "House-Warming") 

The leaves fell a week later. This photo is from 22nd November 2017.

New England Fall Colors

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