I was walking around the edge of our lawn a couple of days ago and noticed that the buds on our vine maples, Acer circinatum, are beginning to swell. It’s going to be a while before we see actual foliage but it’s encouraging to see that they’ve made it through the winter and we’ll soon be enjoying the brilliant green of new growth.
You’ll notice that the twigs are in pairs. That’s something that had escaped my notice in previous years. I knew that vine maple blossoms are always in pairs, as are their samaras (the helicopter-like seeds). I’ll have to look closely at the leaves as they emerge to see if they’re also mostly in pairs.
Another thing everyone in our household noticed at dinnertime yesterday as we looked out to our woods was the way the younger twigs on our vine maples glow bright red in the late afternoon sun. I suppose they’ve been red all winter and I just didn’t pay close attention.
When I lead nature walks I often point out that vine maple stems are often twisted, contorted, and a shade of green. That’s a reason the plant got its common name — in growth habit it can often appear viny.
Colorful twigs can be a clue to identifying trees and shrubs when they’re dormant. A couple of other obvious examples are pacific willow, Salix lasiandra, with golden twigs (in the background of the picture above) and red-twig dogwood, Cornus sericea, with brilliant red twigs. Often the color of the twigs is strongest during the winter, fading back during the growing season.