Northland Nature: Red maples bloom a little late – Duluth News Tribune

Following the January, February and March patterns, the April temperature this year was several degrees below normal. The month of thaw remained frozen, with the ice melting a few weeks later than expected. However, the days continue to get longer and warmer in May.

During a few recent walks I noticed many migrating birds that appeared in the area in April. Here they rest and feed before leaving. Along the roads there were flocks of juncos mixed with other sparrows: white-throated, fox, tree and songbird.

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

I would have expected the Redpolls to be gone by then, but I saw a few. Also, despite the cool, cool days in the sun, I found a Mourning Cloak Butterfly (another late arrival on the spring scene). And an awakened chipmunk zoomed past.

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

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

The hairy willow and aspen buds that dared to open in March have now turned into longer catkins. These structures, rich in pollen, hang from the alders in the wetland, almost a month late. Tiny hazel blossoms now spawn as well. Instead of seeing the first green leaves sprout on the trees (usually elderberries) in early May, we see the colorful blossoms of red maple trees. Normally, I find these lovely little flowers on tall trees in late April. This year we are in May.

The female blooms (pistillate) on a red maple when it blooms in the spring. Notice the red pistils.

Contributed / Larry Weber

When it comes to flowers on trees, maple trees reveal quite a variety. Red maples closely resemble those of early silver maples. With both, the female flowers (pistillate) and the male flowers (stamens) are borne on separate trees (usually). The female flowers of the red maple are aptly named and are bright red.

Unlike the tree flowers that we will see later, they are small and without petals. The male flowers are on threads (filaments) where the pollen forms in capsules called anthers.

Later this month, the strange flowers of sugar maples and elderberry boxwoods will develop. Both bear male flowers hanging from long stalks so that the pollen can blow from here to the female flowers, also on stalks, but shorter. Both are green. It is not until June that the spiky white flowers of the mountain maple are formed. Non-native Norway maples have their yellow-green flora clustered among the leaves.

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

Larry Weber

Larry Weber