When maple trees (Acer spp.) shed their seeds, the whirlybird-shaped pods delight children and adults. With species hardy from U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 2 through 10, maple features differ significantly, but all produce flat, two-winged fruit called samaras. How long maples shed seed and the time of year they do it varies from species to species, but maples release their seed-bearing samaras over several weeks.
Distinctive Seed Pods
Different maple species form distinctive fruit that separate them from each other, but the similarities make them easy to identify. The two-sided maple samaras contain two facing nutlets attached to flat wings of papery tissue. Each nutlet holds one maple seed. The seeds appear on trees about a month after spring flowering, and mature at different rates. The whirlybird shape causes mature samara to spin as they fall, propelling seeds considerable distances on the wind. The color and size of samaras vary among maple species, as do the number of days trees normally shed their distinctive seeds.
The sugar maple (Acer saccharum), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8, grows abundantly in eastern Canada and the northern states. A slow-growing tree, it eventually reaches height of 100 feet or more. Long-stalked, yellowish-green sugar maple flowers appear in early spring with the leaves. The samaras, with their 1-inch wings, ripen from early summer into autumn. About two weeks after samaras mature, sugar maples begin the long-lasting release. Sugar maples start seeding at about 30 years old, reaching maximum seed production when near 60 years old. Seed production peaks every two to five years.
The silver maple (Acer saccharinum), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9, combines a short trunk with long-reaching limbs to mature up to 100 feet tall. It responds to moist land and ideal conditions with rapid growth. Silver maple flowers appear very early in spring, well in advance of its leaves. They grow in dense, green-yellow or red-yellow clusters. Abundant samara fruits grow on slender, flexible stems and begin to ripen in spring. Silver maples release their consistently plentiful crops immediately after fruit ripens. The shedding lasts a short period, often less than two weeks. Seed production starts at about 11 years of age.
The red maple (Acer rubrum), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9, is widely distributed throughout the United States. A medium-sized tree, it grows at a moderate rate and prefers moist, acidic soil. The flower buds appear in dense clusters in late winter and early spring, turning deep red before they open. Its small samara fruit grow on long, drooping stems with wings often less than 1 inch long. They start red or green in color and are dispersed as spring ends. Red maple trees bear seeds as early as four years of age, but heavy seed crops are only produced in alternate years.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.