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Wayne Hinshaw column: Maple tree seeds

Dry seeds

These dry seeds from a maple tree are fluttering around in the wind this time of the year. The actual seed is on the dark end and the remainder of the seed helps it whirl in circles as it falls to the ground. photo by Wayne Hinshaw, for the Salisbury Post

By Wayne Hinshaw
For the Salisbury Post

While walking to my car, I noticed that the wind was full of some sort of seeds fluttering, whirling, and spinning to the ground. My car was covered with the small reddish and yellow seeds. They somehow even got under my windshield wipers.

I  thought they were maple tree seeds, but I was not sure so I was curious enough to check them out. As usual, when I started checking the seeds out, I got really interested in the little seeds. I have to share the information with you.

I am familiar with sugar maples and red maples, but there are over a hundred varieties of maples worldwide. The seeds of the maple are the fruit of the tree. The seeds are called samaras, maple keys, helicopters, or whirlybirds.

If you watch the seeds diving from the trees you will see them spin around and around as they spiral to the ground. It is easy to see where the name helicopters and whirlybirds come from.

On the tree, the seeds are green to yellow in color, growing in pairs. When the seeds are dry, they spin from the tree, covering everything as they search for the ground.

The seed’s shape and design is very aerodynamic with the seed pod on one end and the remaining structure is like a “wing” so that the seed can spin and fly a long way from the parent tree in the wind. The design of the seed helps it spin into the grass, keeping the seed upright so that it is ready to go into the soil and produce a new tree. Each tree will product thousands of seeds in the spring.

I am not suggesting that you go out and gather maple seeds to eat, but they are edible, I learned. The green seeds from the tree have to be separated from the “wing.” Don’t eat the wings, only the seed itself — it is about the size of a pea. Green maple seeds are bitter if eaten raw. I don’t know why you would want to get the bitter seeds, but they can be boiled with butter, salt and pepper to neutralize the bitter taste.

I will leave eating maple seeds to the TV program’s “Survivors” and be content just watching the little whirlybirds spin through the air to my car windshield.

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