You may own a tree that has propeller seeds, which flutter through the air with aerodynamic precision. Equipped with the same method a bird uses to fly, a mini tornado above the winged propeller seed produces a force that sucks air up from under the seed. This force is called lift. Sometimes called propellers, whirlybirds or helicopters, winged seeds are scientifically named samaras. Samaras have one to two seeds with a rigid wing. The wing has a slight pitch, causing it to spin like a propeller. Depending on the wind, samaras can travel more than a mile before landing on the ground.
Norway Maple Tree Propeller Seeds
The round, dense canopy of the Norway maple (Acer platanoides 'Crimson King' makes it a favorite of landscapers. Easy to transplant, the tree grows rapidly, producing a refuge of heavy shade for nearby travelers. Birds find sanctuary in its thick awning and enjoy Norway maple's double-winged propeller seeds that are horizontal and not hanging.
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It adapts to urban areas, tolerating both shade and drought, but has an aggressive root system that can break up sidewalks. Norway maple is winter hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3B through 7B.
All maple trees in the Aceraceae family propagate by their propeller seeds catching the wind and sprouting after landing some distance away.
Tree of Heaven Propeller Seeds
Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) produces a samara seed with a paper-like wing around it. Yellow-green flowers on female trees produce seeds in vast quantities from late summer through early fall.
When dropping, the propeller seeds flutter and spin in the air. The seeds are so successful in dispersing and germinating that seedlings even grow in cracks of pavement and mountainsides. The tree, a native of China, survives where other trees cannot. It thrives under any conditions: hot, dry, wet or cold.
Tree of heaven features large compound leaves like a walnut tree and smooth grey bark. Trunks can grow up to 5 feet in diameter. Crushed leaves and all parts of the tree have a foul odor that is sometimes described as rotten peanut butter. Many property owners seek to kill tree of heaven, which is considered invasive in some areas. This plant is winter hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5A through 8A.
Green Ash Tree Propeller Seeds
Green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) reaches 60 feet high and 45 feet wide. Although it has an irregular shape when young, green ash is symmetrically oval at maturity. Glossy deep green leaves turn yellow in fall. Female trees produce an abundance of propeller seeds, which lead to a messy landscape.
Green ash adapts to a variety of growing conditions and tolerates both wet and dry sites. USDA hardiness zones 8 and 9 are perfect for green ash trees. The trees are susceptible to common borers such as ash borer, lilac borer and carpenter worm. Keep the tree healthy, to ward off borers, by watering and fertilizing during dry weather.