Around our home the biggest trees are Silver Maples. They are beautiful, with silvery-backed leaves that becomes so colourful in fall, and I’ve even tapped their sap for maple syrup. Their sap only has half the sugar content as sap from sugar maples, so I had to collect twice as much – but I’m not complaining, since it tasted so good after boiling, and boiling, and boiling, and boiling…..! For every litre of syrup, you have to collect about 80 litres of sap (for Sugar Maples, the ratio is 40:1).
But each spring I am amazed when their buds burst in very early spring, WAY before leaves come out. In fact, all through winter you can tell that the swoolen red buds are like sprinters on starting blocks, waiting for the starter’s gun of longer daylight and warmth. These buds become spectacular, delicate flowers, decorating the whole tree. As I admired one of our trees, I became aware of a surround-sound humming….. thousands of bees were at work somewhere! I checked all our other trees…. no flowers there, then I realized that the bees were at work on the silver maple, right above me!
I had always thought that maples were wind-pollinated, but it turns out that they have the best of both worlds: They are both wind- and insect-pollinated. In very early spring, Silver Maple maple flowers can be an important source of pollen and nectar for honeybees and other pollinators, with not much else available. Sugar Maples bloom somewhat later in spring, and are also visited by many pollinators. In fact, maples are high on the list of important honeybee trees, and producers out west sell a honey made primarily from Bigleaf Maple nectar.
Then, after yesterday’s windstorm, hundreds of older flowers were spread around our yard, our deck, and on our cars. In the wild, Silver Maples are usually in swampy areas, often growing right up out of shallow water in spring. But they are hardy, and have been planted all over cities, often in much drier conditions. It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish them from Red Maples, and these species sometimes hybridize.
These magnificent trees add colour to spring as well as fall, and if you’re a honeybee, or bumblebee, or another early pollinator, they add life-giving nectar and pollen well before most flowers bloom.