Here in southeast Michigan one of the first signs of spring is the appearance of flower buds on silver maples (Acer saccharinum, Aceraceae). In late February the buds become apparent when they start to swell and turn a vibrant red color. They’re especially noticeable on clear days against blue skies, as shown above. The flowers eventually open in late March or early April, and soon after pollination they develop into the paired winged samaras (helicopter seeds) characteristic of many maples. Nascent leaves begin to unfurl at around the same time.
Silver maples are largely wind-pollinated, but their relationship with pollen-dependent insects is also important. Since these trees are among the first to flower in the spring, they provide an early and much-needed pollen source for newly-emerging bees and other insects. Although silver maples don’t require insects for pollination, a little assistance doesn’t hurt.
Native to moist environments throughout much of eastern North America, silver maples are particularly common here in extreme southeast Michigan. The ancient glacial lake bed and river floodplains provide ideal habitats for them to thrive.