Monday, November 23, 2009

Good Morning, Maple

From my window, my maple looks about the same as it did last week. But there’s something on it that’s worth a closer look. See the leaf on the left? In front of it is a little pointy thing. That’s a bud. Next spring it will burst open and a brand new leaf will unfurl.
That bud isn’t new. It began forming last July. In New England, trees start growing buds about 9 months ahead of time because that’s when food (made from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide in the air) is plentiful.

Inside its protective sheath, the tiny new leaf will wait out the winter. But there is chance it won’t survive until spring. If there is a warm spell, such as a significant January thaw, the bud might begin to open and then die when the temperature drops. This bud is fortunate to be high off the ground, but buds closer to the ground are the favorite winter fare of hungry deer.

If I climbed to the top of my maple, I’d see buds that look a bit little different. These thicker, more plump buds enclose flowers instead of leaves. Sorry, but I’m not willing to risk life and limb to get a photo of them. If you’d like to see drawings that compare of the two kinds of buds, take a look at Bernd Heinrich’s excellent book Summer World: A Season of Bounty (HaperCollins, 2009).


  1. Wow Melissa! I had no idea buds formed nine months before they bloomed. Why are the flowering buds only at the top of the tree?

  2. Thanks for your question, Kate. The a tree's reproductive parts are almost always near the top. It's an adaptation to keep these very important structures safe from browsing animals. In North America, that would include deer and elk. But in African, it includes elephants and giraffes.