Maple Musings

Close Up

Rain is in the forecast again this week, but I’m trying not to get my hopes up. As we come to the end of this La Niña year, experts predict one of the lowest rainfall seasons recorded for San Jose. Other than a few cold days here and there, it’s been a surprisingly mild winter as well. All this adds up to confusion in the garden.

Our beautiful maple tree generally starts dropping leaves in the fall, and after a few good storms, the branches remain bare till spring. Around March, the maple’s internal clock knows to send out buds and shoots and little fruit known as winged samara. In a matter of days the tree dresses in rich, red leaves.

This year, only a few leaves dropped. They turned brown on schedule, but without the rain or wind, the leaves remained. A friend asked if the tree was dead and who could blame her: such odd behavior for a deciduous tree.

It’s been a rough season for allergy sufferers as well. Early blooms from over-stressed trees wreak havoc on sinuses. In my California backyard, one lone maple provides color and shade, but states like Vermont have cause for concern. Trees need cold nights followed by warm days to produce maple syrup.  According to Tim Perkins, director of the University of Vermont Proctor Maple Research Center:

“Sap flows best on warm, sunny days followed by nights that dip below freezing. The fluctuations are key: Cold nights contract air bubbles within the tree, producing suction that draws sap from the ground into the tree, where it mixes with sugar and freezes; warm days thaw the sap and expand the air bubbles, creating pressure that makes the sap flow into buckets or tubing, said Tim Perkins, director of the University of Vermont Proctor Maple Research Center, who has studied climate change’s impact on the maple industry.

Perkins predicts that climate change over roughly the next hundred years will result in the loss of maple trees across much of New England, according to congressional testimony he offered in 2007.”

As I muse on our lone maple tree within our suburban setting, I’m intrigued at the parallels on a grander scale, and what it means for us all. I’m worried.

The Old and the New