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Do Trees Have Genders?

Poet Joyce Kilmer wrote a famous poem extolling trees, but even he might have been amazed at just how miraculous some trees can be. Take the striped maple, for example. Like other flowering plants, the striped maple isn't limited to being male or female. It also can be non-reproductive or monoecious, which means growing both male and female flowers. But what's startling about this otherwise unimpressive species is that it can change its sex from one year to the next. Scientists from Rutgers and Princeton examined a large group of striped maples for four years and discovered that more than half of them changed their sex in that time. Even more striking, 26 percent changed their sex twice, and 1 percent changed sex every year. Generally speaking, younger trees were most likely to choose to be non-reproductive, while older, larger trees were more apt to be monoecious. Scientists speculate that the choices the trees make might have something to do with mortality and growth rates. For example, male maples grow faster and have lower mortality rates, so it would be logical for trees to choose to be male early in their lives.

More about maple trees:

  • Although any of the 128 maple species can be used to produce syrup, the sugar maple is the most popular choice.
  • Quebec, Canada, produces approximately 8 million gallons of maple syrup per year -- over nine times more than second-place Vermont.
  • The oldest maple tree in Canada is the Comfort Maple, a sugar maple believed to be at least 500 years old.
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