What Are Those Things Dangling from Trees?

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Many spring trees burst into halos of frothy blooms, but there are other equally beautiful if subtler shapes dangling from birch, willow and hickory in the spring. These are catkins, slim, cylindrical flower clusters whose petals are tiny if present at all.

 

birch catkins

birch catkins

They often have an alluring droop, inviting the wind to swoop in and help them pollinate. Frequently, it is just the males that have catkins, while the females have single flowers, such as with the oak tree.

Red maples produce gorgeous red flowers with 5 small petals and a 5-lobed calyx (outermost whorl) borne in hanging clusters. The female flowers are fully red, while the male flowers have gold, pollen-producing anthers. After releasing their pollen, these fall to the forest floor like red confetti.

Laura Silverman