Thursday, October 21, 2021

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)


Obsessionally trying to catch the look of Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) as it changes colour. . . The strange nobility of trees in autumn, the clear outline as each one suddenly but tranquilly steps forward. 

The common name in English presumably says something about how English-speakers first came across the species. It isn't very well chosen. The species only grows in a small part of southern Norway. Its heartland is central and eastern Europe. It was introduced into the British Isles in the 17th century, and is very commonly grown as an attractive park and street tree, both in its standard form and in many varieties, e.g. with red leaves. 

It's easily distinguished from the Sycamore, our other common large maple, by the "whiskered" leaves: the elongated points of the leaf-lobes.

The Latin name (platanoides means "like a Plane") is more understandable. The outline leaf-shape can be remarkably similar to London Plane. But maple leaves usually have five main veins, plane leaves usually have only three. And the plane leaves are much more leathery in texture. 

Unhelpfully, the Latin name of the Sycamore, our other common large maple, also means "like a plane": Acer pseudoplatanus. In this case the resemblance may be not so much the leaves as the bark, which is sometimes a bit mottled like a plane tree. And that may also be why European settlers called the American Plane (Platanus occidentalis) the "Sycamore", leading to centuries of transatlantic confusion.

Bark of sycamore trees (Acer pseudoplatanus), looking a bit like the bark of plane trees. Frome, 4 November 2021.

The Norway Maple is a common native tree in the forests of southern and central Sweden, where it is simply called "maple" (Sw: Lönn, or when necessary Svensklönn). The native British Isles species Field Maple (Acer campestre, Sw: Naverlönn) is commonly introduced in Sweden but is thought to be native at only one site, far down in Skåne. The Sycamore is an ancient introduction to Sweden (as to the British Isles): Swedes call it Tysklönn ("German Maple"). 

It's the Norway Maple that Karin Boye is writing about here -- but in spring, not autumn.  


Hell de kämpar, som blöda i striderna,
trots ärr och sår strålande,
hell deras hårda kamp,
hell deras dyrköpta segrar!

Men o du unga träd, du blommande lönn,
dig älskar jag mer än kämpars ärr.
Din oförvärvade, lyckliga adel
är mer än deras vunna slag.

Frisk i livets morgon spirade du ur jorden,
frisk, frisk växte du lugnt i sol och regn;
ångest du kände ej, ånger ej,
intet av allt vårt sjuka.

Du blommar i guld och guldvin; i susningar skrattar du,
när vandraren kysser din stam.
Hans kyss är en bön till den eviga skönhet,
som tänkte i dagen din dejliga blom.

Välsignad du, välsignad du, skönväxande lönn!
De stridandes segrar behöver du ej.
Hos dig är ensliga skogars vila.
Hos dig är sol av gudom.

This poem appeared in her first book Clouds (Moln, 1922). Here's a quick translation:

The maple

Hail to the fighters who bleed in the battles.
In spite of the scars and the gleaming wounds,
Hail to their hard-fought strife,
Hail to their dear-bought victories!

But oh you young tree, you maple in blossom,
I love you more than fighters' scars.
Your unacquired, happy nobility
is a greater thing than their hard-won sort.

In life's morning you sprang fresh from the earth.
Fresh, fresh -- you grew on calmly through the sun and rain;
You did not know anxiety, or regret:
or any of our sicknesses.

You blossom in gold, and gold wine; and you laugh, sighing,
when the wanderer kisses your trunk.
His kiss is a prayer to the eternal beauty
that thinks your lovely blossom into this day.

Blessed, blessed, lovely-growing maple!
Those strife-filled victories you do not need. 
In you is the repose of lonely forests.
In you is the sunshine of the gods.

Frisk perhaps means "healthy" more than "fresh", but the connotations of "healthy" seem too negative: it carries a fatalistic undertone of "still healthy". Here frisk seems to convey something permanent about the essence of the tree.  


[In Swedish there is another, completely unrelated word "lönn" which means secret or surreptitious, e.g. i lönn (in secret) lönnkrog (speakeasy) or lönnbarn (love-child).]

The two trees on the right are Norway Maple. (The one on the left is an Ash.)

Every so often I notice the edges of Norway Maple leaves acquiring a dramatic scarlet colour, as on the sapling below. It suggests a weather effect but that might be misleading.

Red leaf-edges on Acer platanoides. Frome, 3 November 2021.

Red leaf-edges on Acer platanoides. Frome, 3 November 2021.

Red leaf-edges on Acer platanoides. Frome, 3 November 2021.

The green parts of these leaves subsequently turned the normal golden-yellow colour:

Acer platanoides. Frome, 8 November 2021.

Acer platanoides. Frome, 15 November 2021.

Acer platanoides. Frome, 22 November 2021.

Some Norway Maple leaves become more elaborated in shape, like these ones, seen on a cycle path in Warminster:

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides). Warminster, 6 November 2021.

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides). Warminster, 6 November 2021.

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides). Warminster, 6 November 2021.

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides). A sapling growing out of a wall. Frome, 7 November 2021.

Terminal bud of Norway Maple (Acer platanoides). Frome, 7 November, 2021.

Side bud of Norway Maple (Acer platanoides). Frome, 7 November, 2021.

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