What a difference a few weeks makes

In March I took some pictures of some small red flowers on a tree. There were so many they made the whole tree appear red against the sky. There were no leaves at that time and I had no idea what the tree was.

These are female flowers made up of a stigma (top), style (red bit) and ovary (green bit). The stigma is the part that accepts the male pollen which then makes its way down to the ovules in the ovary via a pollen tube.

I tried to find out what the tree was by looking up the type of flower. The first image I found was for Witch Hazel but those flowers are much longer, so not Witch Hazel. But I couldn’t get beyond Hazel of some kind – yet these trees were 10m tall; not what you’d expect for Hazel trees.

I also could not imagine how these curly red styles would develop into the typical helicopter type seed of a maple whether it was a double or single bladed type.

How wrong I was.

A closer look shows one particular pair of styles with a familiar shape. They are tiny at the moment, maybe 3mm long at the most and completely the wrong colour for a ‘sycamore’ seed. Another clue to how these flowers will develop is seen at the bottom of the photo, in the way the ovary is divided into four sections.

In this photo the red colour is less bright but still there. The style has flattened and broadened. It looks like each red style grows into the blade as the seed or ovule develops in one of the four sections of the ovary and the ‘helicopter’ seeds form in opposite pairs.

It looks like some have more than two ovules developing from the same ovary at this stage

Another week later and the colours are more muted, the seeds are larger but still not full size. They seem to be more in pairs now. And finally leaves have started to open confirming that it is indeed a maple tree . . . but is it a field maple, a silver maple or . . . ?

I’ll try to find out somehow and I’ll keep checking to see if any helicopters develop as a foursome or whether they always thin out to pairs.

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