Tales from the Bent Twig Trail: Admiring a Red Beauty

By Wren Smith


red maple treeThe trees on the Bent Twig Trail are wearing their autumn finery, and none were more striking on today’s walk than this lovely red maple, Acer rubrum, visible along the edge of the trail near our “Art Barn”. Red maples have a reputation for being prolific. Perhaps this is in part because they produce and abundance of winged seeds or samaras in the spring and are tolerant to a wide range of soil conditions that allow them to flourish in creek bottoms and dry slopes. Red maples are common in Bernheim, and throughout Kentucky except for the Bluegrass region (the region around Lexington and Frankfort), where it is less frequent. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the red maple is the most abundant tree species in the the U.S. Although it is native, it is considered invasive by many foresters because of its tendency to crowd out more desirable lumber trees such as oak and hickory. Nevertheless, these trees and their colorful leaves often stop me in my tracks.

red maple leaves

This time of year it is easy to see how this tree got its common name. Not only is the tree vibrant with autumn leaves revealing shades of yellow, cranberry, and crimson; the ground beneath the tree is carpeted in various red and orange hues. Even without the leaves, you can usually find something red on a red maple tree. The leaf stem or petioles are usually red, as are the winter buds, and flowers. As a beekeeper, I cast a watchful eye to the tree canopy each February in anticipation of the buds of these trees swelling and bursting into bloom. Red maple trees often provide bees with their first nectar of the season. Thousands of buds unfurl from each tree like miniature bouquets of red, pink and yellow flowers that resemble party favors. After a winter of being “hive-bound” surely the bees are celebrating this unfurling in their own bee wise way. But for now, I’ll enjoy the gifts from this season, take in the beauty on the branches and on the ground, and I invite you to join me.

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