Red Maples Female, and Red Maples Male

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When Adirondack red maples burst into blossom in springtime (our deciduous trees are really just giant-sized wildflowers) not all the blossoms are identical. Some red maples have flowers that look like those above, photographed near our mailbox. These are female flowers. In time, assuming they're pollinated, they'll ripen and produce winged seeds. The particular tree that bears these flowers is a female tree. It has no male flowers with pollen-producing stamens but bears female blossoms only. These are ruby red. Each flower has a pair of sticky, fuzzy styles adapted for catching pollen. Wind and insects both play roles in moving red maple pollen from the male flowers to the female.

See a second image of female red maple flowers immediately below. Gorgeous, aren't they?

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Let's not forget about the male flowers, shown in the two photos below. From a distance, these appear not ruby red like the female blossoms, but orange. This is because they have conspicuous yellow flower parts in addition to red anthers and bud scales. The combination of yellow and red creates the visual impression of orange. 

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The number of stamens in a single red maple flower varies. Commonly it's eight, but it can be more or less. The stamens have red or yellow filaments topped with anthers. When fully developed, the anthers are red on one side and yellow on the other. The yellow is pollen.

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The reproductive lives of red maples are complicated. While the majority of trees in a given area usually bear male and female flowers on separate plants, there may also be bisexual (the botanical term is monoecious) individuals bearing blossoms of both genders. We have such a red maple outside our kitchen door. The tree is largely female, yet one branch bears male flowers. When hiking in spring, I tend to find bisexual red maples particularly in rocky exposed areas, where the plants grow under stress. And to make matters even less clear, certain flowers on a red maple tree may bear both female and male parts.

Maybe there's evolutionary method to the red maple's reproductive madness. Diverse ways of making seeds likely help the tree adapt to a wide range of environments. You'll find red maples growing from the steamy alligator and cottonmouth-haunted swamps of the Florida Everglades to Newfoundland and the chilly interior of Quebec. In the Adirondack Mountains, red maples grow just about everywhere except on high summits. You'll find them at home in waterlogged swamps, on dry, windswept ridges, and on a variety of slopes and flats. Red maples please the eye in spring when in bloom, and they're stunning all over again in autumn. In September, the leaves turn the same deep, brilliant red as the female flowers of springtime.

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