Features and characters of the individual
Maple trees: facts and stories
There are roughly 150 different types of maple tree around the world. Most of these are native to Asia, and they are very popular in China and Japan. They give rise to real passion, with cultivars selected and collected for their exceptional colours. In autumn, crowds of tourists head to see their leaves change.
Yet, it’s Canada that is most associated with maple trees. Of course, this is because of the red maple leaf that adorns the country’s flag. In Canada, around 10 different species of maple can be found growing naturally. Every autumn, they illuminate the forests with thousands of brightly coloured leaves. The term ‘Indian summer’ wouldn’t exist without maple trees.
Among the maple trees that grow naturally in Canada, the most famous is the sugar maple, whose sap is used to make delicious syrup. This special syrup is an important part of the country’s culinary culture. Silver maple trees are less well known, but they are still famous for their splendid colours. They are often planted to provide a pop of colour on the landscape when the weather turns grey.
Did you know? Maple leaves contain yellow and orange pigments called carotenoids, which are the same things that give colour to carrots, daffodils and bananas. Sometimes the leaves also contain red and purple pigments: these are called anthocyanins, and they can also be found in blackberries, blood oranges and cherries. During spring and summer, these pigments are masked by the green pigments in chlorophyll.
Chlorophyll is the substance that enables the tree to produce its own food and develop. When the days grow shorter during autumn and temperatures start to drop, trees recover valuable nutrients from their leaves and store them in their roots in preparation for the coming winter. The green colouring disappears from their leaves, and the yellow or red colour then appears.
When autumn arrives, Canadian maple trees don’t just lose the chlorophyll from their leaves, they also start producing these red pigments. Some scientists believe that this serves to protect the leaves from scorching in the last strong rays of sunlight, and also helps to repel some pests like aphids. The exact reason for this phenomenon remains a mystery though.
The benefits of maple trees The main benefit provided by maple trees is decorative. The foliage is ample and thick, and produces a large amount of oxygen. It provides dense shade in summer, which helps to create a cooling effect in the surrounding area. It is also beneficial for preventing urban heat islands. Their root networks are also very dense, which helps to stabilise soil and prevent erosion.
How to recognise a maple tree
arranged in opposite pairs on the branch, with deep indents creating 5 lobes (palmately lobed, like a hand); fall from the tree in autumn (deciduous)
green top sides and grey/white undersides in spring/summer; yellow, orange and red in autumn; and no foliage in winter
double-winged samara (nut/seed with two wings), shaped like a rhinoceros horn
detaches in small, angular flakes
Specifics about this tree This silver maple forms part of a trio, which were planted here to adorn the bank of the pond. The location is particularly appropriate for these trees, as it resembles the native habitat of this species in North America. Silver maples like to grow in marshy areas or next to rivers.
In autumn, these three trees grab everyone’s attention with their spectacularly bright foliage. During the rest of the year though, they are much more understated.
(Story and photos created by Priscille Cazin- Sylvolutions)
This portrait is:
- Enriched with an illustration from the Belgian Federal State Collection on permanent loan to the Meise Botanical Garden.
- An initiative of Christos Doulkeridis, Mayor of Ixelles , Audrey Lhoest, portfolio holder for Environment, Green Spaces and Planting, and Tourism and the Ixelles Communal executive