Starting this past spring and well into summer, Wilton has been fighting the invasion of the samaras – winged-shaped seeds that most people refer to as helicopters or whirliwigs. Maple trees flower in the spring; their flowers turn into seedlings, called samaras, which when carried by the wind, float to the ground and attempt to root wherever they land.
The past few months have been a banner year for samaras. They have managed to not only clog gutters, litter driveways and walkways, and but also sprout up in lawns, and overrun perennial and annual gardens.
According to Scott Fawcett, a licensed Connecticut arborist and director of property maintenance with Hoffman Landscapes, this phenomenon is referred to as a “mast” year, a year in which trees produce significantly more fruit or “mast” than they do in a typical year. While a mast year is part of a tree’s natural life cycle, they typically only go through this process every few years. Stress can also cause trees to produce more seedlings. (Who knew that trees felt stress?).
“The profusion of maple seedlings this year could be a combination of a mast year compounded by a long cold winter and unpredictable weather, which creates stress for the trees,” Fawcett notes. “Counter-intuitively, when a tree is stressed it makes more seeds, but seedling production actually puts a lot of stress on a tree by depleting its reserves. If a tree was stressed year after year, it would eventually deplete all of a tree’s reserves.”
Fawcett recommends pulling up maple seedlings quickly, because once they take root, they are a lot harder to remove, and just raking them through the mulch may allow them to re-establish themselves.
“All of our managers report seeing more maple seedlings this year than they have seen in a long time. The banner crop is definitely making more headaches and work for homeowners and landscapers.”