Maple trees and squirrels: a relationship

Child using a magnifier to look closely at a maple tree flower.The Silver maple tree is flowering, early for the season in my region, but right on schedule for the way the season is unfolding this year. Although the flowers are tiny, the details can be seen with a magnifier. When children’s attention is drawn to the small happenings in nature, it contributes to their framework for later understanding of where seeds come from and the diversity of plant life.
Squirrels have bitten off, and probably eaten, the sections of the twigs just before the flowers which then drop to the ground. What are the squirrels after? Why do they do this? I see them nibbling but they aren’t eating much of the twigs.

When the maple seeds are fully formed in the fall, children and scientists alike are intrigued by their motion. Squirrels go out on a limb (sorry!) to reach the seeds that develop from the flowers so they can eat the inner seed and discard the hull. Sometimes in mid-chew they drop the cluster of seeds. I ask children to examine the cluster and we discuss why some of the “wings” are empty and others hold seeds. Next Time You See a Maple Seed, a book by Emily Morgan (NSTA Kids, 2014), will help your children learn more about these seeds. The short video that goes with her book is lovely, engaging without telling, allowing children to be intrigued to explore further. 

By following the growth of a single tree over the school year, children become familiar with the tree and begin to notice seasonal changes in other plants. They may not look forward to spring changes to a maple tree in the same way a squirrel does, but they begin to appreciate the interrelated lives of plants and animals.

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