Every maple I've profiled thus far would likely be recognized by a layperson as a maple. But Ash-leaved Maple (Acer negundo) is likely to trick the untrained observer. Unlike the simple, lobed leaves of most common maples, the leaves of this tree -- which is also called Box-elder -- are divided into three, five, or, less commonly, seven leaflets. This feature, along with opposite arrangement of the leaves, causes some to mistake this tree for an Ash (Fraxinus sp.).
But unlike Ash trees, which bear clusters of solitary fruit, Ash-leaved Maple has clusters of paired fruit, as is typical of all maples. Ash-leaved Maple flowers in spring and ripens seed by fall.
In eastern Massachusetts, Ash-leaved Maples usually grow in disturbed, and often wet, areas. There are some growing near the Fuller Pond bridge in Plainville.
It's once again time to gather Black Elderberries (Sambucus nigra). The large clusters of small purple-black fruit provide a powerful medicine. The juice of the ripe berries can be boiled down into an herbal syrup or dried whole fruit can be tinctured. They contain high levels of antioxidants and have proven effective in supporting the immune system. Some people simply enjoy them as food or drink -- using them to make jam, jellies, pies, and wine.
Sometimes just a silhouette is enough to identify a bird. Name this bird. If you can't determine the species, can you guess to which family or genus the bird belongs? (Photo taken in Plainville, MA.)
Leave a guess in the comments below. And be sure to check out the answer to last week's snake quiz on the Quiz Answers page.
Last Sunday, I attended a South Shore Bird Club outing in Fairhaven, MA led by Jim Sweeney. Our small group of seven birders visited several coastal locations and observed a variety of species. Highlights included a Merlin, American Oystercatchers, Black, Common and Least Terns, and a few Saltmarsh Sparrows.
But the most awe-inspiring sight of the morning was the flock of Tree Swallows we observed from West Island Beach. We estimated roughly 1,000 Tree Swallows! I'd been wondering where the inland Tree Swallows had gone -- it seems at least some of them have flocked up along the south coast of Massachusetts. The following photos attempt to convey the jaw-dropping density of swallows.
Sycamore Maple (Acer pseudoplatanus) is another species of maple commonly found planted in New England towns. A typical leaf of this tree has a dark green upperside, a pale underside revealing prominent veins, five lobes (three large and two small), and a bluntly toothed margin.
The paired fruit (called samaras), which ripen in late summer, are born in clusters that hang from twigs. The smooth gray bark of young trees becomes scaly and rough textured with age.
Though sometimes growing alongside Norway Maple, the two are fairly easy to tell apart.