The Earliest Blooming Native Flower

– Posted in: Mud Season, Native/Invasive

The earliest blooming flower in my garden is a snowdrop, Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’. The earliest blooming wild flower is coltsfoot. But the earliest blooming native flower? For that, you have to look up. Way up. Because the earliest blooming native flower belongs to the red maple, Acer rubrum.

Red maple flowers

Red maple flowers

I am always looking down at the ground this time of year, looking for the first spring ephemeral to poke out of the ground. I forget that trees bloom, too, and the red maple is the first.
Red maple flower, close up

Red maple flower, close up

Come to think of it, I do look up during mud season. I look for the red haze on the hillside that tells me spring is on the way. I just forget that the haze is red maples blooming.
red maple hillside tinge

The eagerly anticipated red haze on the hillside is a very early sign of spring.

If you live in the eastern part of North America, you are probably already familiar with this tree, as it is the most common species of tree in North America. It is very adaptable, growing strong lateral roots and a short taproot in moist to swampy soils and a deep taproot with short lateral roots in dry soils. The brilliant fall red color combined with its ability to grow in a wide range of conditions makes it a popular landscape tree. It’s ubiquitous.
new red maple leaves

The new spring growth is almost as brilliant red as the fall foliage.

Some even call it invasive. But while it is a sub-climax tree, the forestry service reports that it can take up to 80 years for the climax sugar maples to predominate. Perhaps it just seems like red maple is taking over, when really it just takes a human lifetime for it to finish its appointed role in succession. It has also had less competition due to the demise of elm and American chestnut. While it may be common, I don’t want to take it for granted. It brings a lot of color to a dreary time of year.
red maple samaras on tree

Before the tree is fully leafed out, the colorful samaras appear to be a second flush of bloom.

red maple samara close up

The winged seed capsule is called a samara.

Wikipedia reports that the leaves are highly toxic to horses. Did you know that?
red maple leaves backlit

The freshly opened leaves are glorious when backlit.

The next time you find yourself wondering if winter will ever end, look up and see if you can’t find some flowers blooming.

This post is part of an ongoing series on mud season.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

Donna@Gardens Eye View April 22, 2016, 5:44 pm

My silver maples bloom early but not as early as the red. And my maple flowers did not bloom fully…they are going from bud to leaf because of all the freezes we had in early April. I will miss their blooms.

Archana April 12, 2016, 2:52 am

This is a visual feast! Thoroughly enjoyed this post! I love to watch out for flowering ,fruiting etc of trees in my neighbourhood . So happy to see there are others with this hobby too!

Betsy April 11, 2016, 9:36 am

I so enjoyed this posting! Waiting for spring!

Laura ~ RYG April 13, 2016, 8:54 am

Me too, sad that our recent April cold snap smashed my daffs down. I’m trying to be optimistic that they will bounce back. You never know! Looking for to 66 temps this weekend.

Barbara Bell April 11, 2016, 9:09 am

I always look for the citrusy green of early willows to signal spring. They seem to know before even the maples. And I’m seeing tiny violas under the shrubs which appeared just after the snowdrops.

Kathy Purdy April 11, 2016, 9:35 am

Yes, the willows are another early harbinger of spring. Usually the earliest willows I see are not the native ones, and so I didn’t include it as the earliest flowering native plant. Willows have the advantage of growing near water, which is usually a slightly warmer microclimate, so they will be a bit earlier for that reason as well.

Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern April 11, 2016, 7:15 am

I so enjoyed the beautiful scenic drive home (well, except for a short stint in PA) because all the Maples were in bloom! Further South, Dogwoods and Redbud. Native trees are especially beautiful. I have a young red maple in my garden not quite in bloom yet but the Serviceberry is getting ready to flower. The Dogwoods will follow. I fully expected Spicebush to be in bloom – I may have missed it.

Kathy Purdy April 11, 2016, 9:37 am

Or your spicebush was victim of the untimely cold spell we had after several days of mild weather. We got down to single digits a couple of nights, so I am sure you did, too.

Barbarapc April 11, 2016, 7:12 am

So marvellous to see the blue sky and tiny bits of flowering treasures. Woke up to fog and 2″ of snow. Perhaps by Thursday we will have moved from the season of ice and snow to mud – fingers crossed!

Kathy Purdy April 11, 2016, 9:37 am

Most of those pics were taken in previous years. Our recent snow has melted off but we’re still waiting for clear skies.