Plans change; for me, it occurs more than I would like. But sometimes those changes are good. I had planned to visit a location that I had not been to before, but I decided to stick closer to home.
Let me ask you- When you’re exploring your favorite place, how many times have you overlooked things? Me, more than I would like to admit and to tell you the truth, recently I had a biggie!
Many nature explorers-photographers document their observations differently. While some enjoy drawing or sketching their observations in a journal, others take photos of nature and the species that inhabit it. The best reason to do either of these would be to learn more about the seasonal changes, especially at your favorite place.
In February of 2017, I started uploading my observations (photos) on iNaturalist. I have over four thousand observations and over eleven hundred species, and I am not even close to touching the surface of all the species, both flora and fauna, at this location. (I need more insects and amphibians!)
What does this mean? A LOT, which I will explain later on, but first, let me get to the part where I totally overlooked something for three years until February 1, 2021, when two things came together.
How silly I am to be so oblivious! I have traveled the same road for so many years and not even notice this incredible and beautiful tree!
Last month while driving on the limestone road, the same road I have driven down for years, I glanced up at the bare trees and saw these beautiful mini clusters of pink flowers accenting the clear blue sky. I don’t remember seeing any trees that bloomed like this at Chassahowitzka WMA. Ya, Magnolias, but nothing like this. How did I overlook this? And the answer I would tell myself is: You weren’t ready.
I can try to explain the ‘you weren’t ready’ answer but I think it’s different from person to person. I always have told people, nature will let you see what nature wants you to see when you are ready to see it.
So seeing the blooms on that Red Maple tree at that time was the right time for me to see it. It sparked my wonderment and, in turn, encouraged me to dive into researching and learn more about this particular tree. Now I can share that information with you, in hopes that you can view nature differently through your lens.
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
The Red Maple is native to Florida. It is a deciduous tree (deciduous trees are trees that shed their leaves annually), and they are also polygamo-dioecious.
Dioecious trees produce either a male and female flower, but individual trees can also be polygamous (having male and female flowers).
Red maple trees occurs as a dominant or codominant in several deciduous forests and deciduous swamp communities- In Florida, I have seen them surrounded by American Sweetgums and Dahoon Holly trees. They can grow up to 90 feet tall and display a beautiful canopy during their blooming stage. White-tailed deer seek out the sprouts coming from the stumps, and the fruit provides a valuable food source for many birds and wildlife during the winter season.
Red maples have male and female flowers. I know, right? I would have never thought that in a million years.
The male and female flowers can grow on the same tree, on separate trees, or even on the same branch. When it comes to pollination, they pretty much got this covered by either wind, pollinators (bees and other insects), or self-pollination.
The flowers have five petals and five sepals, but males will have five to 10 long stamens, and females will have two bright red pistils. The Sex Life of the Red Maple (harvard.edu)
A samara is a winged achene- dry one-seeded fruit that does not open to release the seed. The shape of a samara enable the seed to be carried away further by wind or a nice breeze.
It is like you don’t realize what you are photographing until you start learning about what you are photographing even after the fact. It’s incredible how those little things can open a whole new world of exploring nature with your camera.
I want to thank Richard B. Primack from Boston University for answering my questions.
If you would like to learn more about the Red Maple, below are a few links for further reading.
Above, I mentioned adding my observations to iNaturalist from my visits at Chassahowitzka WMA for years; this is how all this plays in a bigger picture.
I am not a phenologist, per se, but I can say I am a photographer who photographs flora and fauna seasonally.
Of all those years uploading photos of flora during spring, summer, winter, and fall, I now have a seasonal timeline to follow. I can select a month to find out what’s blooming or growing. And why would I do that? Ahh, great question. An example, I would be able to see and photograph the seasonally changes of the Red Maple tree.
I now know at Chassahowitiza WMA that the Red Maple trees will start to bloom during late December and early January. In late January and early February, the females are producing fruit, and new buds are emerging.
After all this research, I get a bonus! The fruit will soon be falling, and I know exactly where to go in Chassahowitzka WMA to get some video with an amazing background of the samaras whirling about in the gentle breeze.
For once, I am speechless on how I would fully describe what I feel when I look at the Red Maple in bloom. I love how the samara glistens in the sunlight and the colors; just look at the colors.
Having all this information and with a newfound passion of the Red Maple tree I can prepare for next year.
Be safe in your travels.