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Northland Nature: Red maples bloom a bit late

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

Male flowers (staminate) on a red maple
The male flowers (staminate) on a red maple in spring. Pollen is formed in carpals on the top of the stalks (filaments).
Contributed / Larry Weber
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Following the patterns of January, February and March, April’s temperature this year was several degrees below normal. The thawing month remained frozen with ice-out being a couple weeks later than expected. However, the days continue to get longer and warm in May.

During a couple recent walks, I noticed plenty of the migrating birds that showed up in the region in April. Here, they rest and feed before moving on. Along the roads have been flocks of juncos mixed with other sparrows: white-throated, fox, tree and song.

In the woods was a large group of robins and also among these trees, I saw the camouflage brown creepers, energetic ruby-crowned kinglets, yellow-rumped warblers and a patient phoebe and hermit thrush. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers joined resident woodpeckers to add drumming to the springtime woods.

I would have expected that the redpolls would be gone by this time, but I did see a few. Also, despite the days being chilly and cool in the sunlight, I found a mourning cloak butterfly (another late arrival to the spring scene). And a waking chipmunk scamped by.

A year ago, a walk in the woods in early May would have also included a few more kinds of warblers and sparrows. Besides these birds, last year I noted many kinds of spring wildflowers in bloom. In a single walk, I found hepaticas, spring beauties, bloodroots, marsh marigolds, trout-lilies, violets, bellworts and trilliums. Even the first fiddleheads were up. Not so this year; I had to search to find a single hepatica flowering.

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Not as obvious as last year’s birds and wildflowers, but this late spring is happening. I find that a good place to look for spring is in the trees. Here the buds that were in the winter weather for months are opening; also, later than normal.

The furry buds of willow and aspen that dared to open in March have now grown into longer catkins. These structures, rich with pollen, hang from alders in the wetland, nearly a month late. The tiny hazel flowers are showing now, too. Instead of seeing the first green leaves growing on trees (usually elderberry) in early May, we are seeing the colorful flowers of red maples. Normally, I find these small delightful flowers on the large trees in late April. This year, it is May.

Female flowers on a red maple as it blooms
The female flowers (pistillate) on a red maple as it blooms in spring. Note the red pistils.
Contributed / Larry Weber

When it comes to flowers on trees, maples reveal quite a variety. The red maples are a lot like those of the early silver maples. With both of these, the female flowers (pistillate) and the male flowers (staminate) are borne on separate trees (usually). The female flowers of red maple live up to the name and are a bright red color.

Unlike tree blossoms that we’ll see later, they are small and without petals. Male flowers are on threads (filaments) where pollen forms in capsules called anthers.

Later this month, the strange flowers of sugar maples and box elders will develop. Both hold male flowers hanging on long stalks so that the pollen can blow from here to the female flowers, also on stalks, but shorter. Both are green. Not until June do the white spike flowers of mountain maple form. The non-native Norway maples have their yellow-green flora in clusters among the leaves.

We had to wait a bit longer than normal this year, but now in May, we can see the numerous small red female flowers of red maples, with male trees nearby. Looking at these trees, we see that spring things may be late, but still happening.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber
MORE BY LARRY WEBER
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books.
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