It was once thought that any child who was passed through the middle of a split maple was assured a long life. One specimen in West Grinstead Park in West Sussex, England, was in constant use for this purpose. When its frustrated owner threatened to hew it down, a petition was circulated by local mothers, begging him to spare it.
Another maple of renown stood in Macroon, County Cork, Ireland. A landlord tried to hang a tenant from it, but as it was too short, this method failed. The tenant was ultimately shot, and the tree refused to grow an inch taller ever afterward.
If a stork’s egg should ever be touched by a bat, it becomes sterile. To protect their precious eggs, storks built their nests in the maple tree, which frightened away all bats.
The word “Acer” means hard or sharp and refers to the timber taken from the maple. Its spring sap can be drunk fresh, fermented into vinegar or boiled to produce the sweetest of syrups.
Native Americans once made flour from the inner bark. The Pennsylvania Dutch used the same part to make dyes.
The seeds are edible. They are called helicopters, maple keys or whirlybirds. The U.S. Army developed an efficient carrier based on the shape of the seed; dropped from planes, it was capable of carrying 65 pounds of supplies.
The maple is the flower of October in the Japanese flower calendar. It symbolizes reserve and retirement. Nicholas Culpeper called it a “gentleman’s tree,” as it was often found in city parks.
In a Native American legend, “The Sugar Maple,” the tree gets help from Woodpecker, who pulls out the grubs under Maple’s bark. Later, Woodpecker is dying of thirst during a drought, and Maple allows him to drink by pecking holes in the tree.
In order to keep maples producing sap, Native Americans performed ceremonies to ensure good harvests each year. Typically done right as the sap began to flow, these rituals involved gathering around the tree, addressing it in ritual language and offering it tobacco incense.
Surprisingly accurate barometers, the silver and sugar maples’ leaves turn upside down to show their linings before rain. Sugar maple leaves also have excellent preservative qualities and were often layered among stored apples, carrots and potatoes.
The maple’s rich golds and russets lure droves of leaf peepers to New England each autumn. Save the fare: Enjoy the maples around you.
– A reference librarian, Lisa Karen Miller has been gardening and researching plant lore for many years. Have plant lore to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.