It’s a day to celebrate the trees. If you plan to hug a tree, you might choose the majestic Big Leaf Maple, a native to the west coast. You would, however, have a challenge getting your arms around these gentle giants. They are pollinating this week, covering everything in a fine yellow dust. The pollen settles on every surface and outlines the leaves of all the plants below its canopy as it settles into the thin lines caused by the veins of leaves. It is making me miserable with itchy nose and eyes, but it does not alter my love affair with them. I’ve never seen such heavy pollination from these grand trees as is going on this year. I pick up a lawn chair to sit in the warm sun and a yellow cloud rises from it!
Mature Maples can grow to 100 feet tall with a canopy spread to 50 feet. Their protecting branches are umbrellas in a spring rain and shade shelter on a hot summer day. I have measured leaves 12″ across. They are the largest North American maple tree.
Everyone loves Big Leaf Maples. The sapsucker is back for another year of nesting in the ones on the driveway near the house. All our resident woodpeckers dine on Maples regularly. Squirrels make them their homes and use them as their highway system. Covered with thick mosses of various colors and species, there are micro worlds on each tree, bugs living busy lives who never leave the tree. These mossy worlds are the 24 hour diners that attract all manner of birds and critters.
People too can dine on these big Maples. The blossoms of Big Leaf Maple are edible, you can add them to spring salads, and those whirly seed pods, called samaras, can be eaten, usually with the ‘wings’ removed and often cooked. Though dried they can provide winter nutrition, they are better and less bitter when greener. Native people would peel young maple shoots in the spring and eat the tender flesh.
Though the sugar content is low, you can make syrup from Big Leaf Maples. The US Forest Service has a 1972 brochure on how to do this. https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/rn181.pdf
Coastal tribes used Big Leaf Maple wood to make many functional items from boxes to dishes and pipes and paddles. The inner bark can be made into baskets and rope. Maple wood is used commercially for furniture, interior trim wood, and musical instruments. Sadly, here locally, poachers have cut giant Maples off private land to sell for the prized wood.
Big Leaf Maples die slowly, occasionally letting go of an old rotting branch. The giant limbs fall to the ground in wind storms or when their weight is too much for the tree to bear, where they continue to be a home and a food supply for many critters.
In the fall, if the weather is right, the huge leaves of this gentle giant of a tree turn bright yellow (if a wet fall, they turn more brown before falling) and carpet the ground, eventually rotting into the soil around its base, providing nutrients for the baby Maples that will grow from the those whirly, rotating seed pods as they too make their autumn descent.
These giant yellow trees are a beautiful contrast to the evergreen trees who are their neighbors throughout their coastal homelands.
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