Our rural roads and historic schoolhouses may have ended up as dull as suburbia in the fall.
In autumn, the warm colours of sugar maples radiate from roadside and woodland. It’s as if the maples store the best of summer sunsets, to release them in a glorious season- ending foliar display.
The beauty of these soul- nourishing sugar maples also graces the older sections of our communities.
Most of the maples in the newer sections of our towns, however, are Norway maples. For much of the year these introduced trees are able to masquerade as sugar maples, but the fall reveals their “true colours.” Their leaves turn a dull yellow or a muddy brown.
Under their shade, the suburban landscape tilts sullenly towards winter.
Perhaps the nurserymen of generations past should be held to account. Norway maples are fecund trees, readily producing seedlings that can be grown on to saleable saplings for mere pennies.
Marketing contributed to the Norway maple’s acceptance. One cultivar is slyly tagged with the noble appellation “Royal Red.” That it is not red at all, but more of a dull purple, has not deterred homeowners from falling for the con.
Purveyors of the Norway maple often justify its planting by contending that they are better suited to urban conditions than a native maple. That it is possible to find healthy sugar maples in our towns, belies this argument.
Thank goodness Norway maples weren’t available on the market in the late 19th century when the province provided money to rural landowners for tree planting. Our rural roads and historic schoolhouses may have ended up as dull as suburbia in the fall.
There is another reason to rue the planting of Norway maples, one that also involves colour – but this time the colour of feathers. As non-natives, Norway maples sustain far fewer insects than sugar maples. Fewer insects mean fewer colourful birds. Monotony triumphs.