Coming Soon: Maple Sex

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Bigleaf Maple flower buds

Get ready boys and girls, the Bigleaf Maples (Acer macrophyllum), are getting ready for their once-a-year sexual escapades. It’s going to be a few days before we get into full-fledged maple sex season, but keep your eyes peeled for the first blossoms to open.

Right now the flower buds are just starting to peek out from their enclosing bud scales on the trees at the edge of our yard. I first noticed the expanding buds a few days ago and yesterday evening I aimed my macro lens at a few of them.

Bigleaf Maple flower buds

While you can’t really see it at this stage, Bigleaf Maples have separate male and female blossoms (actually, the female flowers also have sterile stamens). They’re both in the same developing raceme so each cluster of flowers will have both boys and girls. According to David Wagner, a botanist in Eugene who has studied these things over the years, in some racemes the male flowers will bloom before the females and in others it’s the opposite way around. That way the pollen gets spread around to different blossoms.

Bigleaf Maple flower buds

Our Bigleaf Maple flower buds are still pretty tight, but if you look closely you can see the developing blossoms. Each one of these buds is about 1.5 to 2 inches long. Once the flowers have opened the racemes will be 3 to 5 inches long. After pollination, the fertilized females will form the “helicopters” that we’ve come to recognize as maple seeds.

Bigleaf Maple flower bud

Photo Note: I made all these images with a 100mm macro lens and my camera mounted on a tripod. It was late afternoon, golden hour, with the low sun illuminating the blossoms. Since there was just a bit of wind I made lots of exposures for each composition and then threw away all the ones that weren’t quite sharp because of the blossoms moving ever so slightly in and out of my focus point. Autofocus helped with sharpness, but that system doesn’t always find the point I want to be sharpest within the frame.

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