Spring is an excellent time to learn about deciduous (leafy) trees. I've been watching the Alder, Cottonwood, and Maple trees in my neighbourhood bud and become green throughout the last few months, slowly revealing their identities to me as their leaves settle into their final, fully-grown shape. The trees have made themselves known in other ways as well: in March, Alder trees dropped their yellow-green catkins all over the ground, which ended up as a mash of pollen beneath the shoes of trail walkers. Cottonwood leaves exploded from sticky, resinous buds and surrounded their tree trunks with half-inch, sweet-smelling shells. And Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), the most showy tree of all, proudly displayed its yellow flowers and long, elegant buds throughout the early spring.
As the yellow maple flowers begin to float down and carpet the ground below, a change is taking place. The flowers are beginning to grow "wings", indicating that the fruit of the maple tree is ripening.
And in one brief month, the maple leaves have grown from the size of a a mere sprout to twice the size of my hand:
A complementary species of maple that also grows along my neighbourhood forest trail is the Vine maple (Acer circinatum). There are some key differences between the Bigleaf maple and the Vine maple: the former grows from a single, thick trunk, whereas the latter grows from several thin trunks (hence the name "vine"). Vine maples also have a different leaf shape of 7 to 9 points (shown below) and grow flowers that are pink instead of yellow.