Posts Tagged ‘Acer negundo’


Between the bank of the little river and the edge of the laneway is a hedgerow of trees and bushes. The trees, mostly Manitoba maple (Acer negundo) and ash (Fraxinus spp), provide the basic architecture of the row, with many leaning out gracefully over the river. A closer look reveals that there is a veritable cornucopia of fruits and berries available to the wild folk, as many less conspicuous species offer up their fall bounty. Here is an inventory of the berries and fruit I was able to spot in the hedgerow.

At this time of year, the many clusters of ash seeds offer the birds an easy meal. One source I came across notes that European folklore claims that by consuming ash keys one is made temporarily proof from the undead. This little chickadee should be safe.


Among the smaller trees represented in the row are a few hawthorns (Crataegus spp). On our previous property, hawthorn trees were quite common and we had several large, old trees. The thorns on hawthorns are serious. The kids used to call hawthorns “nail trees”. They produce a good crop of fruit, apple-like berries called haws. The haws often remain on the tree into winter and provide a food supply for wildlife.


Interspersed among the larger trees are a few small European Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica). As the name suggests, these are not native to Ontario and are considered an invasive species. I haven’t noticed very many around here though. Their berries should not be eaten as they are a cathartic. However, the birds enjoy them, and consequently act as dispersers, helping the buckthorn invade new territory.


A second non-native species of buckthorn, Glossy Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) is also present in the hedgerow.


Creeping over and around the trees and shrubs are several species of vines. Easily recognizable are wild grapes, perhaps Riverbank grapes (Vitis riparia).


Another common vine is Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). The berry clusters are very attractive, with the blue-purple berries held at the end of bright red stems. Showing that one man’s native is another man’s invasive, Virginia Creeper is considered a nuisance in Britain, where it was introduced and is now crowding out their native species in hedgerows.


Fruits fuel the migration journeys of many birds, and in turn, the birds spread seeds for plants. Most bird-dispersed fruits are bright red, the better to attract the attention of birds. Virginia creeper has dark fruit, but attracts birds with the bright red stalks that hold the fruit. The leaves of this vine also turn red long before the leaves of the tree that is supporting the vine, thus making the vine stand out so that birds can more readily find its fruit.


In one spot, I came across a a vine that was new to me. I believe it is a Common Hop (Humulus lupulus).

Finally, a smattering of wild roses (Rosa spp.) were dotted with rose hips.


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“At the southeast corner of Willow House, two trees form a graceful arch over the pathway to the door. They don’t have the sturdy trunk we usually associate with trees, but appear rather like two large bushes.” Does this passage sound familiar? If you have been a faithful follower of The Chronicles, you might recognize it as the opening to The Whisperers.


After studying the winter trees, I concluded that they were Manitoba maples. However, knowledgeable nurseryman and former property owner Tony kindly pointed out my error. The pair of trees are, in fact, non-native ornamentals, Amur maples (Acer ginnala Maxim). Tony shared the above photograph of the twin Amurs, taken after the Ice Storm of 1998, when the trees were badly damaged. Now that the trees have leaves, the Amur and Manitoba maples are easily differentiated. The compound leaflets on a central stock, shown below on the right, are those of the Manitoba maple (Acer Negundo).


In winter, the plentiful maple keys, or samaras, of the Amur maples, rustling gently in a hushed evening breeze, made the trees whisper. But now that the trees are flowering, I noticed a different sound coming from the trees. They are abuzz with pollinators such as the bumblebee (Bombus sp.), shown below.


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Correction: Doh! The information posted here about Manitoba maples is correct, but the accompanying photos are not of Manitoba maples, but Amur maples. Please see All Abuzz for the updated information.

At the southeast corner of Willow House, two trees form a graceful arch over the pathway to the door. They don’t have the sturdy trunk we usually associate with trees, but appear rather like two large bushes. They display the typical growth habit of the Manitoba maple (Acer negundo) or box elder, with branches forking near the ground into many crooked stems. In summer, the trees bear compound leaves quite unlike those displayed by other maples. However, the trees produce an abundant supply of dense clusters of maple keys, or samaras, which mark the species as a member of the Acer clan.

Native to the prairies, Manitoba maples grow along river valleys and floodplains, where their roots help to prevent erosion and their crowns shade streams, helping to maintain cool water temperatures for fish. Early settlers planted Manitoba maples with other trees to form shelterbelts that would help to break the winter winds and fight soil erosion. Millions of tree seedlings were distributed to prairie farmers by the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) Shelterbelt Centre. Manitoba maples can also be used to produce maple syrup, and in recent years shelterbelt plantings have been evaluated as important carbon sinks.


Since the arrival of European settlers, the range of the Manitoba maple has expanded as far east as Nova Scotia. Its keys are a favorite food of the Evening Grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus) and it is speculated that the planting of Manitoba maples may have played a role in the matching eastward range expansion of the grosbeaks.

Woodpeckers have enjoyed this Manitoba maple's insect population

Woodpeckers have enjoyed this Manitoba maple's insect population

In spite of the positive aspects noted above, Manitoba maples have long been disparaged as “junk” trees, disliked for their weedy, shrub-like growth, weak wood, susceptability to insect pests and messy dropping of leaves and keys. They are not, however, without their charms. That amazing, abundant crop of maple keys remains on the tree most of the winter. In the hush of a still winter evening, the merest breeze sets the keys in motion and the trees speak, a sweet, gentle, whispered “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”.

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