Sunday, June 13, 2010

Aceraceae in Quebec part 2 and the Canadian Flag scandal

Part 2 of 99 plants for the summer.   (Find part 1 here)

Last week, I started with probably one of the easiest tree families to identify in Quebec, the Aceraceae a.k.a. the Maples. There are 6 native species that can be easily found in Quebec and if you look carefully even within the island of Montreal and 1 introduced species that you can find absolutely everywhere you look.

Let's get the three native species out of the way (and hopefully engraved into my brain) before discussing the case of the Norway Maple and it's man-made brothers.

Acer saccharinum - Silver Maple, Érable argenté

Probably my favorite maple next to pj boy (Striped Maple).  This maple is easy to tell apart from the others because of it's extra-long middle lobe and the pale under-side of it's leaves. It's a big fast growing tree and so it needs lots of space.

It grows best in rich, humid soils near rivers, lakes, marshes, and bogs but I've frequently seen them surviving along roadsides in Montreal.

Acer saccharum - Sugar Maple, Érable à sucre
This is the species to thank for Maple Syrup, a wonderfully sweet topping for pancakes. Maple Syrup comes from the boiling of the spring sap. Once a Sugar Maple is big enough, meaning usuallly over 20 years old, it is tapped - a hole is drilled and a spout is put it place. Once the warm weather returns, the sap starts flowing again in the trees and some of it is diverted to the spout and into a bucket or tubing to be collected.

Like most maples, A. saccharum has a 5 lobed palmate leaf. The valleys between the points are rounded or in a ''U'' shape. It's autumn leaves are beautiful to behold as they change from green to yellow and then to orange and red before falling to the ground.

A. saccharum likes rich, moist, well-drained soils.

Props to the Northern Ontario Plant Database, I really like their website, their pictures are really nice and the information seems frequently checked and updated. 

Acer spicatum - Mountain Maple, Érable à épis

As plainly stated in it's English common name, this shrub (because it's average height is under 8m) is a mountain dweller. I first came across it on Mont-Royal, the large forested hill located in the center of Montreal, during a salamander hunt. It can easily be identified by its flowers that grow in erect clusters on branch tips. Its three lobed leaves resemble those of the Striped Maple but are smaller and the bark isn't striped.
It grows in well-drained moist soils such as those found by mountain stream sides.

Acer platanoides - Norway Maple, Érable de Norvège

Introduced and now invasive species extraordinaire, the Norway Maple comes in many shapes, sizes and colours. They are frequently used in landscape design as some varieties produce dark purple leaves. They are extremely tolerant trees and therefore strive in stressful city conditions. Thanks to their extreme shade tolerance, rapid growth, high seed production and tendency to kill all species that grow under neath it, the Norway Maple is out competing our native maples. Which is not cool especially since they significantly reduce biodiversity in the invaded forested area.

It has encrusted itself into Canadian life so much so that the leaf that you see on our flag is none other than a NORWAY MAPLE!!! One would expect to see a Sugar Maple. Scandalous

How to tell them apart? The easiest way is to brake off a leaf and see if white latex appears. If that's not an option, you can look at the valleys in between the lobes, A. saccharum has U shaped valleys whilst A. platanoides has V shaped valleys. It's leaves are usually broader too.

Although to a lesser extent, the Norway Maple can also be used to produce maple syrup.

What maples grow in your back yard? Sugar, Norway, or Japanese?

Take care!

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