Dear Readers, the Wednesday Weed has moved temporarily to Thursday this week – work got a little bit out of hand yesterday, and these posts take rather more time than some of the others. However, having waxed lyrical about the Japanese Maple last week, I thought it was only fair to spend some time with our native maple, the Field Maple, this week. Although this is not as showy a plant as its Asiatic relative, it has a certain charm, with its yellow leaves in winter which, unlike those of its close relative the Sycamore, are not besmirched with tar spot fungus. This is a tree that pops up once a woodland is beginning to grow on disturbed ground – in its early years it is very shade-tolerant, and so can grow underneath the foliage of the pioneer species such as birch. It is always a small-ish tree (though in good conditions it can reach 20m), but it can make a lot of growth early in its life as it reaches for its ‘place in the sun’. It can live for 350 years, and although it loves chalky soil, it seems happy enough in London clay to be a popular street tree. In his book ‘London’s Street Trees‘, Paul Wood mentions a favourite Field Maple on Hornsey Road in North London:
‘Drunks lean against it, powerfully-jawed dogs are tethered to it, buses brush past it, a cocktail of Thunderbird, 7 Up and worse is frequently fed to it. Despite all this tender, loving care the tree is doing just fine‘.
How can you identify a Field Maple, and, just as importantly, how can you tell the difference between this tree and the ubiquitous Sycamore? Firstly, the leaves of the Field Maple are smaller than those of the Sycamore, and are not serrated. Plus there’s the aforementioned tar spot. The bark of a mature Field Maple has a corky quality.
The flowers are held in what my Collins Tree Guide describes as ‘little erect yellow-green posies’.
And the ‘helicopters’ are similar to those of the Sycamore, but are held horizontally rather than dangling.
As you might expect from a native tree, there is a variety of folklore around the Field Maple. It used to be believed that it would deter bats from entering the house, if a bough was hung in the doorway. Carrying a child around a Field Maple, or passing them through the branches, was thought to guarantee the infant long life, though presumably not if you dropped them. There is a variant that says that waving a branch of Field Maple over a newborn will give them lifelong protection from the evil eye, so this might be a safer course of action.
Field Maple leaves are the food for many caterpillars. Some species are pretty much totally reliant on this species, including the Mocha moth (Cyclophora annula)..
…the Maple Prominent (Ptilodon cucullina)
and the Plumed Prominent (Ptilophora plumigera)
Although Field Maple hasn’t been used extensively for timber, owing to its slow growth and small size, it was the wood used by Stradivari for his violins. The sound of these instruments have proved difficult for modern-day luthiers (what a great word!) to reproduce, and chemical analysis has shown why. For one thing, the wood in the 18th Century violins appears to have been treated with a substance containing aluminium, calcium, copper and a variety of other elements, though whether this was done deliberately in order to change the tone of the instrument, or was simply a way for the woodsmen to prevent fungal infection in the wood, is unknown. But other qualities are simply the result of age – the wood appears to have gradually dehydrated, and constant playing has shaken some of the fibres until they have detached from one another. The authors of the study believe that this might contribute to the expressiveness and tone of the instrument, but if you haven’t yet purchased a Stradivari violin you might want to get a move on (if you have several million pound to spare) – the wood is gradually decaying, and the violins will not last forever.
And if you want to hear what one sounds like, have a listen here. This music, and this instrument, and this violinist, are what human beings are capable of. I think that’s worth remembering when so much of what’s going on at the moment tends one towards despair.
And here, of course, is John Clare, catching the beauty of the Field Maple with his usual precision.
The Maple by John Clare
The Maple with its tassell flowers of green
That turns to red, a stag horn shapèd seed
Just spreading out its scallopped leaves is seen,
Of yellowish hue yet beautifully green.
Bark ribb’d like corderoy in seamy screed
That farther up the stem is smoother seen,
Where the white hemlock with white umbel flowers
Up each spread stoven to the branches towers
And mossy round the stoven spread dark green
And blotched leaved orchis and the blue-bell flowers –
Thickly they grow and neath the leaves are seen.
I love to see them gemm’d with morning hours.
I love the lone green places where they be
And the sweet clothing of the Maple tree.
Photo One By AnemoneProjectors (talk) – Field Maple (Acer campestre) autumn leaves, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75305174
Photo Two by By Marija Gajić – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45034594
Photo Three By Willow – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2041490
Photo Four by CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=737185
Photo Five by Patrick Clement from West Midlands, England, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Six by Ben Sale from UK, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Seven By Patrick Clement from West Midlands, England – 71.024 BF2013 Plumed Prominent, Ptilophora plumigera, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63728673
Photo Eight by By User:Husky – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1052941