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Helicopters from Maple Trees

Q: I have been told that Maple trees produce there winged seeds every other year. Any truth to this?

A: Yes, maples do produce their winged seeds every other year, and every other year in between.

In other words, the "helicopters" are formed every year, but there will be years where a very heavy crop may be produced (like this year) and years where very few may be produced.

As for why, no one seems to know for sure, although the pattern that I've noticed is that if the weather is dry when their seeds are developing, it'll very likely be a heavy seed crop that year.

April of this year was very dry, and many of the silver maples in our area went overboard with seed production.

I think it was furthered along by a lot of flower bud formation last year (maples do have flowers, they're just not as "showy" as other trees like crabapple and dogwood).

Put this all together, and you're cleaning billions of whirly-birds out of your gutters.

Overall, the maples tend to survive this event, although they will leaf out later than usual and the leaves are typically smaller than usual, giving the trees a very sparse look.

To help them along, I recommend watering thoroughly during any dry spells, and a good root fertilization in the fall.

Q: Do all maple trees produce helicopters? We just bought a crimson king maple. Will this tree produce helicopters?

Warm regards,

A: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Oops, sorry.... yes, Sheila, your crimson king maple will produce helicopters, and they will be about 1 1/2" long.

If you just got the tree and it's small, it may not produce many helicopters this year as it may direct more of its energy into regenerating its root system.

If it is a little short on helicopters this year that's perfectly OK -- producing helicopters requires energy, energy that is better spent at this time getting adapted to its new home.

Q: We have tons of helicopters from our trees. I am curious. Are they poisonous? Can they be eaten?

Thanks for your help.

A: I would open this question up to our website visitors to see if someone knows for sure either way, but in general I would caution against eating the helicopters.

They can't be very nutritious and, although I've never tried one, I can't imagine they taste very good, either. Otherwise, we'd have seen them in recipes somewhere! Maybe someone has a recipe for "helicopter hash"!

If nothing else, you can still have fun opening the helicopters part way and sticking them on the end of your nose. That's what I would do instead of eating them.

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Tom Mugridge

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