I’m a trained botanist, but I have let this professional side of myself lie idle, having spent my last nine years as a classroom biology and ecology teacher. I have maintained botany as a hobby and my summers in Peterborough, Ontario involve a lot of wandering about in the woods and along trail edges admiring the plants, trees, and their flowers. As a runner I do stop to stare at and photograph interesting plants, average pace be damned!
There is one little maple tree, some form of Freeman’s maple (Acer X freemanii), that has captured my attention for the past three summers. Situated in a grassy strip between the two sides of the Lady Eaton College parking lot, it starts to turn red in early July, an activity that trees usually reserve for late September and early October in these parts. As I never want my summer holidays to be over in early July, for three years now I have told this tree, “Not yet, little maple, not yet.”
Though the little tree cannot reply, it has revealed much upon closer inspection and continued observations. This has been a very dry year in Ontario, and this tree has had leaf wilt on the warmest of days (yesterday it was 31 degrees Celsius). Looking closer still I noticed some very strange leaf galls, specifically maple bladder galls, which are caused by the maple bladdergall mite (Vasates quadripedes). Several sources have reassuringly claimed that the trees are not harmed by such an infestation.
During my years as a botanist I was primarily concerned with the correct identification of plants, scarcely bothering to look deeper into the phenology of a given species. Thanks to this little maple I have managed to identify a species that is completely new to me for the first time in many years. Botany, or more specifically plant identification, is just the first step in what can be a whole world of wonder situated on a single leaf! Horton Hears a Who, indeed!