Sunday, November 13, 2016

I Thought I Knew You

There is a tree in my backyard and in scattered locations throughout my neighborhood that changed this year. This is a maple tree of smaller stature than a red or sugar maple. I have always considered it to be a Florida maple, also known as southern sugar maple (Acer floridanum or synonym Acer barbatum). I haven’t changed my mind on that, but still the tree surprised me this year.

Some years ago (my earliest photo file is dated 2011), I first noticed this small tree because of its fall color. The leaves were a pure, clear yellow with no hint of red or orange. The leaf shape is similar to a chalk maple (A. leucoderme) or a sugar maple (A. saccharum), but both of those have orange-red colors. In addition, the chalk maple usually has noticeable hairs on the underside of the leaf, and this maple does not have that.

Florida maple (Acer floridanum) in 2011
I have always enjoyed and admired the soft yellow color of this tree in the fall. Over the years, I have used that distinctive color to find more and more of them peeking through the woodland edges of my neighbors’ properties. Each new one I found was a treasured discovery of the land that came before us.

Acer floridanum in 2016
The surprise in my yard this year is that the tree didn’t color yellow, it turned soft orange. From a distance, I thought it was a sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) shining in the sun. I walked over to take a look and realized it was the maple! I was flabbergasted to see such a change. Was it a chalkbark maple after all? I reached up to feel the leaves - still smooth on the back.

Over the next several days, I watched the tree turn its new colors. I searched for pictures on the Internet and found examples of Florida maple trees with similar colors. Perhaps the pure yellow years were the exception!

I checked other trees in the neighborhood – some continued to turn yellow while others showed some soft orange. A friend brought me sample leaves from hers, one that she had always considered to be a chalkbark maple; it also had a smooth back.

As an aside, even though I still feel that my tree is Acer floridanum, I always find good and helpful information from the Name That Plant website and went to see what they'd have. Here they have a comparison of leaves and a statement about the shape of the lobes: Acer floridanum (Terminal lobes of some leaves broader toward tip than toward base) vs.  Acer leucoderme (Lobes narrower at the tip than at the base, tips pointed (even acuminate)). Since I had both leaves, I decided to compare them (see below).

Note: their source is Native Trees of the Southeast: An Identification Guide, a great book itself, and thanks to Name That Plant for highlighting that important difference. When identifying plants, always try to gather/photograph several leaves if possible to capture some of the natural variations and make sure you have a good representation.

Well, this has been exciting - I like nature that keeps me on my toes! It will be interesting to see what it does next year. If it would bloom and set seed, that would be a new and welcome development ~

Florida maple (Acer floridanum) wearing its 2016 colors

1 comment:

  1. My husband and I have been amazed at the colors of the leaves this year...we have walked in the same spots for many years and I swear that some of the trees have different colors. Your post backs me up!