While hiking at Allegany State Park over the weekend, a gorgeous color kept drawing my eye. I’m used to seeing browns in the winter woods, but usually it is beech leaves, stubbornly clinging sometimes till spring. This color was richer, though… deeper… and with a more golden tinge.
This photo does not do justice to the color I saw…
Samara. I like that word. According to thefreedictionary.com, samara is defined as follows:
sam·a·ra (smr-, s-mâr, -mär)
n. A dry, indehiscent, winged, often one-seeded fruit, as of the ash, elm, or maple. Also called key fruit.
And, because inquiring minds like to know, indehiscent means:
Not splitting open at maturity: indehiscent fruit
These were definitely samaras – very maple-like. When I got closer to see exactly whose seeds they were, a quick glance at the bark told me: Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum). The bark is smooth with green and white stripes, giving the tree its name.
Striped Maple is an understory tree that doesn’t usually get very big – maybe only 40 feet or so. It likes moist, upland soil. I don’t think we have any here at Audubon, but there are plenty of them in the Park.
It’s mostly an eastern tree, as you can see from the USDA Plant Database map. Another map I saw somewhere once and now can’t find shows it mostly in the upper elevations of the states that are green on this map.
Here’s what it would have looked like last spring (thanks to Monarch!)
From that leaf shape, you can see why some people call it Goose Maple – the leaves looking like gigantic goose footprints. Some call it Moosewood, presumably because in areas that have moose it is a favorite food? (And speaking of food, there is a restaurant in Ithaca, NY with that name that serves the most delicious foods! I try to eat there every time I’m in Ithaca and have several of their cookbooks… but I digress…)
My favorite name for this tree hints at a very interesting use for the soft leaves: Charmin of the Woods. I’ve never put it to that use myself. Have you?