Winter Flowers: Maple and Elm

With the bare tree branches encased in shimmering ice and the ground a carpet of snow, it seems like winter will never end. However, as the weeks pass, we grow closer to the thaw and the first hint of spring. Despite this cold weather, two species of maple and two species of elm can flower late in February and early in March. They can be found in our native forests and also on central campus as part of the Sewanee Arboretum.

Red Maples (Acer rubrum) are a very common species in Eastern North America and on the Domain. This tree grows in a variety of habitats, but can most commonly be found on the Domain in mixed oak-hickory forests. Red Maples are known for striking red fall leaves, and they also has a long reddish petiole and red flowers. The leaves of the red maple are distinguished from other maples by their 3-5 palmate lobes with serrated edges. Flowers with 5 petals are produced at the ends of twigs. Red Maples can flower starting in January to March and will produced winged fruit, known as a double samara, from April to July. On central campus, you can find a Red Maple between Guerry Hall and Georgia Avenue.

20150216_112037Silver Maples (Acer sacchariunum) favor wetlands and disturbed areas on the Domain. You can tell Silver Maples from other maples by the deeply cut spaces between the 5 lobes. Silver Maples are named so because of the silvery color on the underside of the leave. The Silver Maple flowers from February to April, producing green or red flowers. The wind-dispersed fruit as a double samara and is produced from April to July. You can find an individual next to University Avenue in front of Chen Hall.

20150216_112904Winged Elm (Ulmus alata) can be found on North facing slopes, maple-gum swamps, and disturbed cove and plateau habitats. Its namesake comes from the projections that can sometimes be found on branches which look like wings. Leaves are typically smaller and thinner than other. Winged Elm flowers from February to March. These flowers contain both male and female structures and lack petals. Each flower produces a samara which is hairy, especially on the margins from March to April. On central campus, you can find one in Abbo’s Alley.

20150216_113117American Elm (Ulmus Americana) can be found on limestone outcrop, floodplain, and disturbed cove and plateau habitats. Like the Winged Elm, American Elm flowers contain both male and female structures and lack petals. The American Elm flowers starting in late February and March. The fruit is also a round wind-dispersed samara, which is produced in May to June. American Elms are susceptible to the fungal Dutch Elm Disease You can find an American Elm (cultivar Princeton) in the quad near All-Saints Chapel.

The Sewanee Arboretum has been digitized and can be found here in map form with clickable points if you are interested in seeing what other tree species have been planted on central campus.


About Callie Oldfield

I was a Post-Baccalaureate Fellow for the Sewanee Herbarium from Winter 2015-Summer 2016. I am currently a PhD student studying Plant Biology at the University of Georgia.

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