Boxelder trees (Acer negundo, Aceraceae) are easy to identify in the winter thanks to their distinct seeds. Like other members of the maple family, these trees produce seeds with papery wings known as samaras. Unlike other maples, boxelder samaras tend to persist on the trees through the winter. In the photo above you can see the clusters of samaras still clinging to the trees.
The samaras drop gradually over the course of winter, sometimes littering the ground. The wings cause the seeds to autorotate when they fall, helping the seeds disperse over a larger area.
Boxelders are widespread and tend to establish themselves in disturbed areas with abundant water and sunlight. In nature they’re common in floodplains, but humans have helped extend their distribution. They’re frequently found near houses, vacant lots, and other areas of human activity.
Boxelder seeds are important winter food for many animals, including squirrels and a number of birds. In warmer months the trees tend to attract boxelder bugs that feed on the plants.