JUST ONE: Vine Maple

1. November in the forest with Vine maples.

This is the tenth entry in my “Just One” series about native Pacific Northwest plants. Like other posts in the series, this one has a little science and a little poetry: science in the text and poetry in the images.

I became aware of Vine maples after I moved to a garden apartment in a Seattle suburb. The landscapers there used native plants and a small Vine maple grew below our third story windows. I watched the little tree evolve over the seasons, enjoying its lime-green leaves in spring, puzzling over patchy fall color changes and admiring the sinuous, bare branches in winter. I found more Vine maples growing as understory trees in a local park. One November I made a series of images of ghostly pale leaves lighting up the gloom of the park’s dense, evergreen forest. I miss them now. The soil here seems to be too dry for their comfort. But they’re not far away – Vine maples are plentiful in the wet forests of the Pacific northwest.

2. Looking down on our small Vine maple after a snowfall.

3. The same tree in April, processed with a solarized effect.

4. Looking down again, this time with a Lensbaby, in May.

5. In October.

Contrary to its name, the Vine maple isn’t a vine and it isn’t the upright, lollipop-shaped tree we usually associate with the word ‘maple.’ This maple doesn’t get very tall. It often has multiple, slender trunks, or a single trunk that twists and turns, looking for more light. The branches can get very long and droopy, sometimes rooting if they touch the ground. Confronted with a thicket of them, it’s understandable how someone decided to call them Vine maples.

Maples have been with us for 60 million years, probably originating in eastern Asia, evolving over time into about 150 different species, all native to the Northern hemisphere. The Vine maple, Acer circinatum, ranges only from the southwest corner of British Columbia to northern California, from the coast to about 200 miles inland. A small territory. And it’s nearest relative? That would be the Full moon or Amu maple (Acer japonicum), native to Japan and southern Korea. Imagine a Japanese maple rather than a Sugar maple and you’re on the right track to picturing a Vine maple.

6.

7.

8. Looking up into a Vine maple tree at the Trail of Cedars in Newhalem, Washington. July, 2016

9.

10. Looking up into a Vine maple tree along the trail to Wallace Falls in July.

11. November winds blow pale Vine maple leaves off the trees. The dark evergreens towering over them are Western redcedars and Douglas firs.

I’m a detail person, so the first thing I noticed about Vine maples was the attractive shape of their leaves: overall they’re generously round like little moons. Indentations lend a certain grace, not unlike on their Japanese maple cousins. There are usually 7-11 serrated lobes, each ending in a delicate point. The leaves are held flat to absorb light, as if a flock of paper-thin, green saucers has come to rest on thin, wavy branches, beseeching for light deep in the forest. The Latin name, Acre circinatum, tells us it’s a maple (Acer) with something circular going on (circinatum).

As you might guess, this small tree is not considered valuable to loggers. In fact, it’s deemed a nuisance because dense thickets of the shrubby trees can impede loggers’ progress toward their goal: the big trees. But I don’t have to tell you that no plant is useless. Besides the enjoyment humans get from Vine maples as forest and landscape trees, deer and elk browse the tender shoots and leaves. The Coast Salish people sometimes used Vine maple wood for bows or for fishing net frames; other tribes used it for snowshoes and cradle frames. Coastal aboriginal people boiled the bark of the roots to make a tea for colds or burned the wood to charcoal, mixed it with water, and drank it to combat dysentery and polio. A study published in 2000 determined that nutrient levels under Douglas fir trees (valuable for lumber) are higher when Vine maples are present as an understory tree, compared to stands without Vine maples. These trees feed the forest, the wildlife, and our souls.

12. A Vine maple peaks out from between two evergreen trees in May at Federation Forest in Washington.

13. Vine maples carry fat clumps of moss on their limbs at Federation Forest.

14. To the left is a Bigleaf maple, our most common maple species. Contrast its large leaves with the smaller leaves of the golden Vine maple on the right. Marckworth State Forest, Washington State. October, 2016.

15. This Vine maple, planted at a garden apartment complex, lights up the parking lot in November with color. Trees in full sun display more fall color than trees in the forest.

16. Vine maples adorn the forest at O.O. Denny Park in Kirkland, Washington. November, 2017.

17. Another way of seeing Vine maple leaves on a windy November day at O.O. Denny Park.

*

Why should you care about Vine maples? No reason. If you don’t, that’s OK. The larger point here is that when we get to know our surroundings, when we are curious enough to look deeper and open enough to become companions with the beings we share space with here on earth, well, it’s a good thing.

*

***


55 comments

    • The snowy image is full of little footprints but I decided that had to be OK – the sweep of those branches is so nice. I’m glad you mentioned #11 too, Howard. The wider view isn’t always as easy for me as closeups are, especially in a forest. Thank you!

      Like

  1. Gorgeous pictures! I love the shape of maple leaves, too. I’m not sure if we have Vine maples over here in Eastern Washington, though…might be too dry for them. But they sure are pretty! Lots of interesting info in this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Right, I think it’s too dry where you are…even here on Fidalgo Island, it’s too dry. 😦 But I suppose you could nurse one along as a landscape plant. They’ve grown on me and I’m glad you enjoyed this overview of their charms. Thanks so much, Peg, it’s good to hear from you. I hope all’s well in your neck of the woods.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Although I am a fan of the colorful autumn leaves (#12, 13, 14, 15) I love especially the light and airy pictures here, either in color or in b/w (#2, 9, 10, 17). Very poetic! The first one is kind of bloomy, so nice, I love it. And of course I agree, knowing your surroundings is enriching 🙂 Also interesting to know how it was and is used by natives in different countries. Sometimes we can find ingredients of these plants in modern medicine not being aware of it. The lightness of this post seems to reflect your mood dear Lynn 🙂 I enjoy it very much!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The light and airy look is something that I’m drawn to a lot, even though I’ve been on the dark side lately, too. 😉 I think the use of herbal medicines or ingredients is seen more often in Germany, and maybe other EU countries. The US really moved away from that. I would like to find plant-based ingredients more often. One problem here is that certain types of medicines are regulated by the government, which makes them safer, but many of the plant-based medicines are not regulated, so you don’t know for sure what you are getting. For example, I like to use Elderberry syrup (Sambucus) when my throat feels sore or if I think I’m getting a cold. That product is not regulated by the government so it might not contain as much of the active ingredient as it says on the bottle. I have to do my own research and find a manufacturer that I trust. I hope that makes sense.
      Let’s hope the lightness of this post is indeed a reflection of my mood, Almuth, thank you for saying that. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Aujourd’hui j’ai écrit :il neige des feuilles.. C’est un peu cela ici, et c’est si beau les trottoirs qui deviennent toit dorés.. Sourire
    Merci, Lynn, et j’ai un faible pour la 11 et 17..sourire encore et belle soirée

    Liked by 1 person

    • Merci beaucoup, Irene, c’est agréable de partager les plaisirs de la saison avec vous. Un toit doré, des feuilles tombant comme de la neige sur le trottoir – j’adore ça. Vous n’avez pas besoin d’être dans la forêt pour vous nourrir de ces choses. Sourire!

      Like

  4. #3 looks to me like wallpaper. So does #10.
    The first mention of vine maple in your post sent me looking for more information: “The foliage is borne on twisted, spreading limbs (hence the term vine). While it often resembles a shrub in the forest, with multiple stems sprouting [from] the base of the plant, vine maple forms a small erect tree. Trunks tend to be thin and crooked, and greenish in color when they are young, but age to reddish-brown.” To my eyes, #16 and #13 present the viniest view. From the way the vine maple increases nutrient levels under Douglas fir trees, we could think of it as a catalyst.
    I don’t remember you doing such an extensive treatment of a single species. As you say, it’s good to get familiar with the natural denizens in your vicinity. Yesterday I spent time sitting with plants. and noticed some new things.
    #11 is a pleasant black and white rendering. #18A is a reminder that we (or could it be just I?) tend not to think of maples as having flowers.
    Your final picture raises the question of whether you have a collection of pressed leaves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Like wallpaper, well, OK, but can we say sophisticated wallpaper? 😉 I WAS going for a flattened perspective. There is some controversy or lack of clarity about why the name was given (twisted limbs, resprouting branches, dense thickets…I think all those ideas work). I’m glad you spent some time sitting with plants yesterday – the day before yesterday – it’s getting a little too cold to do that here, literally, but repeated short outings are a good way to get to know the local characters, too, right?
      Yes, the flowers! I considered writing about that but I was trying to keep the text short. Maple flowers are generally very pretty, once you find them. Our other common maple, the Bigleaf maple, has long dangling clusters which, if they open during the right kind of weather, can create heavenly honey. I bought a small jar once and loved it but I understand that it can vary from year to year. I don’t think Vine maple honey happens.
      https://www.honeybeesuite.com/the-allure-of-bigleaf-maple-honey/
      The only pressed leaf collection I have is what’s left from some surreptitiously gathered leaves from around a mountain lodge in Costa Rica. I always meant to frame them but you know how those projects go. 🙂

      Like

  5. The last paragraph of the post is very important, because it reminds us of the importance of being “connected” with what surrounds us and with nature, even for common and apparently unimportant details.
    I believe that it is the kind of relationship that humanity needs. This is the true “network” that connects us with this world!
    Beautiful photos of a beautiful tree. I also really appreciate the maple!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I asked myself, why would anyone care about the little Vine maple tree, especially people who don’t live here? So I tried to answer that question, and I can see you understand the answer. We should care not necessarily about this specific kind of tree, but about anything and everything we spend time with, in our own environment, so we can connect. I agree that’s what we need more of. So many people feel unconnected to nature and to one another. Thank you very much, Dulce!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ken, the solarization was done with ColorEfex. It’s a nice tool to work with. These little maples don’t always show the brilliant color of maples in your area, but they have their charms.

      Like

  6. Interesting to hear you’re a detail person, me too! And that you speak french, which I’ve always thought a beautiful spoken language. My favourites here are 2, 5 and 16. Stay safe – and look forward to 20 Jan! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trying to stay safe here, and sane…a challenge! I don’t speak French but I took 4 years of it in school (pre-college). I use google translator, compose what I want to say in English, and read through the French translation to make sure it makes sense. Usually, I think it does but I could be wrong. 🙂
      It’s fun to semi-immerse myself in that world from time to time – I agree, it’s an aesthetically pleasing language. Irene Tetaz does some interesting work so it’s worth the extra effort. Cheers, Adrian!

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s goods to hear, Alison, thank you. This little gem is worth looking for but it may to be harder now, without the leaves! It really surprised me to learn that it doesn’t grow here as a native tree, given that we are right next to the mainland.
      There’s a wonderful app/website called inaturalist where ordinary people report sightings of plants, animals, fungi, etc. If you search “vine maple” and look at Vancouver you’ll see many reported observations, esp. over near UBC around Stanley Park, etc. Each observation has a photo and precise GPS coordinates. I tracked one Vine maple down here on Fidalgo that someone planted next to a road. An inaturalist user reported it. It was surprisingly easy to find, and from underneath that tree, I gathered the leaves shown in the last photo. 🙂 It’s a fun site to use to explore various things people have seen in your area.
      https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&taxon_id=48258

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Marvelous homage to the Vine Maple, Lynn. Your artistic images to start are unique and appealing. Agree, the leaves are beautifully shaped as you’ve shown in your images and the colors as they change are incredible. I assume that this type of Maple is different, but related to, the variety in my hometown of Maplewood on the east coast. 🍁

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really enjoy finding different ways to portray plants that I’m fond of – it’s a good challenge. Yes, Maplewood must have been named after a local maple…probably the Red maple, an eastern US native that has brilliant red fall color. Vine maples only turn colors if they get lots of sun…but the duller ones in the woods can be beautiful in their own way. (I know you’re just kidding with me about Maplewood but of course, I couldn’t help thinking about what kind of maple would prompt someone to name a town…). Thanks, Jane. Hav a good week!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Lynn – Hope you don’t mind a rambling comment, as several things come to mind. First, I really delight in your “just one” pieces. Somewhere I think you mention they are ten in number, but I have only found nine. It is interesting that of those only two are on angiosperms, the plant group favored by most people (and by evolution as well, at least for now). I am reminded of a great class that used to be offered through North Cascades Institute by Fred Rhoades called “Life Before Flowers”. Hoping now that you do one on a moss.

    For “Vine Maple” my favorite images portray the understory (in between) nature of the plant in the forest.

    An aside on big-leaf maple – it has the biggest leaves of any maple. (According to Wikipedia “typically 15–30 cm (5.9–11.8 in) across…with the largest running to 61 centimetres (24in)” On the lower slopes of Mt Teneriffe (near North Bend, WA) you can find some at least 72x61cm, and quite beautiful.)

    Finally, something in an an article about a Dorothea Lange exhibition (“Things as They Are” by Valeria Luiselli in The New York Review of Books 11/19/2020) brought “bluebrightly” to mind:

    “How do you tell others about what you think is worth telling, that you have either discovered, or uncovered, or learned…and that you think is meaningful,” Lange asks the camera in the film footage from 1963—“not moral, but meaningful?” That is, perhaps, both the most basic and complex question in the creative process: How do we organize the chaos of our individual experience into a narrative that carries collective meaning? Perhaps taking a series of photographs is similar to the process of taking notes for a novel or an essay. The hardest part comes later, when those notes have to be revised—most discarded, some kept—and then assembled into a larger narrative.”

    in a 1965 letter “Lange wrote:
    Am working on the captions. This is not a simple, clerical matter, but a process…. They are connective tissue, and in explaining the function of the captions, as I am doing now, I believe we are extending our medium.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ramble on, Richard, I’m honored to listen. I think you’re right, this is the ninth, not the tenth “Just One” post. I miscounted. And I hadn’t thought about the fact that most all the posts are about our more primitive plants – ferns, a lichen, some old cone bearers, and then the one flower I wrote about is an oddball orchid (I guess all orchids are!). It would be good to do a moss – maybe Hylocomium splendens. But I still get them mixed up! Or another lichen – Cladonia rangerifina – I do love that one. The challenge is to amass a group of photos showing different aspects of the plant, and I think that’s easier with more complex plants.
      Speaking of photos, it’s interesting that your favorites were the ones that were more difficult to get, for me anyway. It’s easy to photograph leaves but difficult to show the whole plant where it’s growing.
      I’ll send you a photo of a wonderfully huge Bigleaf maple leaf…they astonished me when I moved here from NY. They still do.
      You gave me a gift with the Dorothea Lange quote and article – if reading that brought me to mind, I am grateful, very grateful. How do you tell others what you think is worth knowing – that question hovers around my mind all the time, especially as I edit. In fact, when I put this post together I asked myself, “Who cares about Vine maples? Only a few people I know would care about this plant.” So I wrote that final paragraph. It was worthwhile asking myself that question.
      I love Lange’s idea about captions being connective tissue and extending the medium.
      Your sensitivity brought these gifts to me. Thank you.

      Like

  9. Of course we’ll care about Vine Maples, if only because of this lovely album. It’s great to see a shout-out for an understudy, sorry, understory character, and to learn that it’s a nice companion planting for the Douglas Firs. And the photos, as always, are a real treat, every one, fantastic. I like the really processed, printed fabric #3 and the photo negative #10. And the light, delicate 8,9 and almost-ghostly #1. With the exception of the box elder, I don’t think I’ve ever met a maple I didn’t like, this Vine variety is really nice. The “Just One” series is a great idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Once again you delight me with a substantive, fun comment. I’m glad you like the more heavily processed photos – I have fun with them. I can see #3 as fabric, too. I don’t know what you use for processing, but FYI, #10 is a filter called solarization in ColorEfex. I started there and then decided what else I to do. Thanks for mentioning Box elders – I really know nothing about them and had to look them up – I’d heard of them, that’s it. I’ll keep doing the “Just One” posts since there are still quite a few plants that intrigue me AND have enough “personality” to do something interesting with. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Haven’t given up on catching up… perhaps someday? But I’m glad I didn’t miss this one. Love, love the vine maples and your presentation of them gives them such lovely due credit. Our world is all the brighter and lovelier for their presence. We seem to be surrounded by them here as they seem to be thriving thanks to Eric’s work on taming the blackberry vines. I even talked him into cutting down a very scraggly looking alder that was in the way of a fantastic spray of various shades and colors of vine maples. Seems as though the color was late coming this year… but all the more delightful when it did. Sorry. Can’t pick a favorite.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We do what we can and it’s good to see you here. 🙂 It’s especially gratifying to know that someone who’s familiar with the plant appreciates this post, so thank you! I’m with you on sacrificing an alder for more Vine maple beauty. It seemed to me that our color was late, too. There are still a few Bigleaf maples with leaves, but not many, and quite a few Bitter cherry trees with little yellow teardrop-shaped leaves hanging on late. I dont’ know if you have that tree. Enjoy your evening, Gunta!

      Like

  11. Went back to read previous comments and noticed that #11 seemed to be a favorite. For me along with some other visitors. What draws me to that particular image is the graceful flowing spray that the vine maple features so often. I’ve found it’s not an easy one to capture as beautifully as you did there. That graceful flowing shape when it has room to spread. This year with so much vine maple revealed on our hillside, I had the pleasure of watching the color develop and intensify. It was so late coming, I at first thought it was going to be a disappointing year… but then the colors came and deepened. It turned out to be one of the best years yet. 🍁

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s great to see your comment about #11 because it really is hard to photograph the way they grace the forest – so often there are just too many other things in the way. 😉 Thanks – glad to hear you’ve enjoyed a good fall color season, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. These are beautiful and I am impressed by the variety you present with ‘just one’. I really like several of the B&Ws. #2 for its wonderful delicate shape and lines, #9 and #11 both have great contrast and I like the dark look and natural vignetting in #11. Both #3 (B&W) and #5 (color) are great nature patterns. And the composition and color in #16 appeals to me … I like the strong and delicate elements as well. Great work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good to hear! I really try to put variety into these posts. This tree, being so delicate and small, isn’t always easy to see, let alone photograph in the woods. These represent at least 5 or 6 years of photographing them. What you point out in #16 – the strong and delicate elements – is what’s so notable about these trees. In forests with so many big, bold evergreens, it’s nice to have that contrast. Thanks for pointing that out. 🙂

      Like

  13. How sweet is the story about the little Vine maple in your Seattle appartment! Even more the photo no.2 from above onto the tree in snowfall. I always thought, photos with just a lot of leaves are a bit boring … you make me see that it is not the case, not at all. What a pleasure to see and learn about the Vine maple, such a charming tree.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was nice to look down on that little tree every day and to watch it change through the seasons. Yes, lots of leaves can be wonderful…just keep playing with the image, right? This tree is a lot like the Japanese maples that are so popular for landscaping. I always loved Japanese maples so I was happy to learn that they are the nearest relatives to this tree instead of other maples on this continent. It’s as if the Pacific Ocean vanished, bringing us right up to Asia. 😉

      Like

      • We love Japanese maples, too, there’s a redleaved one standing on the corner between the front yard and the entrance to our house. We planted it about 20 years ago, but it is still not more than 2m high. It grows very slowly and it is the beauty of the street with its dark winered leaves.

        Liked by 1 person


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s