Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Red maples at Freedom Park

Finally - a few minutes to sketch in this unusually hectic new year!  I headed for the boardwalk at Freedom Park and was spellbound by the sight of a bare-branched red maple in flower - the brilliant red flowers and buds seeming to glow in the late afternoon sun.  A quick ink sketch in my nature journal, and I was off to see what other discoveries lay in wait.

How odd - I next came across a red maple with lots of new leaves and no flowers.  There is nothing quite as fresh and graceful as the bright green of new leaves unfurling.  In this case, magenta, red, and a bronzy-purple are part of the red maple's palette.  I wondered at the lack of flowers and the abundance of leaves.  My past experience is that usually there is a similar cycle of bud, leaves, flowers, and seeds in the same species (although with some overlap), but I'd never noticed before that maples could be so different.  Another quick sketch and a photo reference for painting later...

Next - close to the boardwalk I spotted a red maple with tiny new leaves and graceful sprays of young samaras.  Samaras are winged seeds, in this case, two seeds joined at the tips.  These are the "helicopter" playthings of my childhood.  What a treat to see the entire life cycle of the red maple in one area at the same time!  I added a detailed study of these to my page.

As I emerged from the wetlands portion of the boardwalk, I spotted yet another red maple in bloom next to the rail.  Bees hovered and dashed and busied themselves with the tiny red flowers, packing away bright yellow pollen bundles onto their hind legs.  I slowly (and carefully) eased up for a closer view and more quick sketches.
I added watercolor washes to my ink sketches afterwards , but I can't seem to capture the deep color glow that the afternoon sun lends to nature.  My questions on the seeming disparity of flower-leaf-seed cycles sent me on a research quest. 

Since red maple is one of the commonest species in Florida and eastern North America, it wasn't easy to find the uncommon information.  Craig Huegel mentions in his book "Florida Plants for Wildlife" that some red maples seem to be dioecious, with only certain female trees producing seeds.  I'm guessing that the locations of some of these trees in the park also influenced their development: some were in deeper shade and wetter areas.

Please feel free to comment and add further to my knowledge - it's all about learning from nature around us and from each other.