Hi everyone. Not sure if you have noticed, but it’s spring! I know I always love this time of year and especially look forward to new flowers blooming. Most people are familiar with the flowers you see coming up in gardens, like tulips and daffodils, but you may also notice the bigger landscape changing due to the flowers on the trees. Today I’m going to show you and talk a bit about three native trees that have lovely spring flowers. Native means they grow naturally here in WV and weren’t planted, although sometimes people also plant these trees in their yard because they are so beautiful and grow well here.

The first tree we are going to talk about is the red maple (Acer rubrum). It’s one of the first trees to make flowers in spring. We have a lot of red maples here in West Virginia. We often notice their beautiful red leaves in the fall. But guess what? They also have beautiful red flowers in the spring that make the whole tree look red, or sometimes reddish orange, from far away. Let’s take a closer look at the photos. The flowers themselves are pretty small. And actually, there are two types of flowers, male and female. Each female flower will have two red female parts, called styles, and each male flower will have around 12 male parts, called stamen, which hold the pollen. Most red maples have either all male flowers or all female flowers, but some have both. After the female flowers are pollinated, they will make red seeds called samara. These are the seeds that twirl in the wind like helicopters. A tree full of red samaras will also look red from afar. 

Female Red Maple flowers. 
Photo: Wikipedia Commons
Male red maple flowers.
Photo: Dave Smaldone
Red maple samara.
Photo: Erin Smaldone
Red maple tree with samaras.
Photo: Erin Smaldone

The second tree is one of my favorites to see in springtime, the eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis). They are generally smaller trees, they only grow to about 20 or 30 feet, and they have gorgeous pink-magenta flowers. You can often see them along roadsides and forest edges. Let’s take a closer look at the flowers below. Redbuds are members of the pea family, which often have this flower shape. Since it is one of the earlier flowers out in the spring, redbuds are important for insects looking for pollen and nectar, especially native bees. In order for the bees to get to the nectar, they have to sit on the bottom petals (the ones that look kind of like a slipper) to open up the flower. Later in the summer, the pollinated flowers will make pea pods containing seeds.

Redbud flowers
Photo: Dave Smaldone

The last tree on our list is the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). Dogwoods are so beautiful that many people use them as landscape trees, although not all landscape dogwoods are native. In fact, I have one in my front yard! The native flowering dogwoods have white, and sometimes pink flowers. Let’s take a look. The neat thing about these flowers is that the part we think of as the flower is actually several flowers. And the white part we think of as petals are actually specialized leaf bracts. The real flowers are the little yellowish guys inside. In fact, if you look closely at this photo, you can see a few of the flower parts sticking out of some of the flowers! Each of these flowers will mature into a red fruit in fall, which is enjoyed by many types of wildlife. The leaves also turn a nice reddish purple color in fall.

Flowering dogwood.
Photo: Dave Smaldone

I hope you have enjoyed learning a bit about some of our native flowering trees. Do you have any of these growing near you? What other trees are flowering now? How are their flowers unique? Take a closer look and see what you can discover.

 – Erin Smaldone, Education Director

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