You may have heard of whirlybirds, or maybe whirlygigs. Perhaps you know them as samaras, but helicopter seeds might just be the most common name for the fruit that falls from a maple tree. These flying seeds whirl to the ground in a beautiful spectacle, but how many maple trees produce them, you might ask?
Red maples trees, silver maple trees, Norway maple trees and Japanese maple trees produce the most “helicopter” seeds, also called samara fruit. Helicopter seeds grow throughout late spring to early summer. Once they’re mature, the helicopter seeds are usually blown off by the wind similar to leaves.
Below, we are going to give you insight into which maple trees produce the most helicopter seeds, as well as how to care for your maple trees as they reproduce, grow, and bloom all over again. Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s get into it!
What Are Helicopter Seeds?
Officially known as samaras, other popular names include ‘helicopter seeds’, ‘whirly birds’, and ‘whirlygigs.’ Really, the easiest way to think about them is just: ‘a maple seed.’
Now, just for clarity, maples are not the only trees that produce samaras.
In general, samara fruit is found on maple trees, box elder trees, elm trees, and ash trees. Essentially this ‘fruit’ is a seed shrouded in a little wing-like casing that is designed by nature to blow through the wind and spread far and wide.
This spread gives the tree releasing a samara, or helicopter seed, the chance to reproduce at a further distance than a tree that produces fruit like acorns, apples, or citrus might.
‘Samara’ is the term for each piece of the conjoined two sides, which combine to display two casings, two seeds, and a structure that looks like a little pair of wings floating down to the sky.
Often, you may instead see them as individuals who have been broken apart by winds, animals, or other forces of nature that separated the whole into a half.
Other trees only produce one-sided wings. Maples are special in this way, that they are the true ‘helicopter’ seeds both by structure and the way they fall from the canopies.
Having the fortune to be produced by so many types of trees means that samaras are quite common, and most people are probably familiar- even if they are more familiar with the one-sided samara pieces that wind up in their yards.
Speaking of samara production, different trees produce different amounts, as well as different types of seeds.
After all, we are talking about maple trees here, so let’s digress.
Which Kinds Of Maple Trees Produce the Most Helicopter Seeds?
There are so many kinds of maple trees out there. Most are known for the type of sap they produce which, in turn, leads to the type of syrup they help create.
A lesser-discussed qualifier of maple trees is their ability to produce a whole host of helicopter seeds. These maple seeds, or whatever other name you prefer to refer to them by, are also an edible part of the tree that can be utilized right alongside the syrup that has its roots deep inside the maple itself.
● Red Maples A tree that is commonly known for producing sap that is not as sweet as other trees’, the red maple makes up for it by producing the most helicopter seeds!
● Silver Maples. The silver maple holds its own- producing sweeter sap and plenty of whirlybirds itself. You can rely on a silver maple for looks, taste, and a little bit of a show when the wind blows and the helicopter seeds go flying.
● Norway Maples. Now, this European native may not be nearly as popular of a topic as its two preceding relatives, but it has plenty to show for between its seeds, size, and ability to spread like, well . . . wild helicopters?
● Japanese Maples. One of the most diverse maples out there, this tree stands its ground pretty well as one of the most versatile trees in general. Add in the fact that it produces a ton of maple seeds, and we’re on to something.
Red Maple Trees Produce Many Helicopter Seeds
The red maple tree is a great way to add color to your space. No matter the time of year, you’ll be sure to appreciate the state tree of Rhode Island.
Even as the leaves fall in the winter and the tree loses its bright red vibrance, its branches make up for the loss of one colorful element by adding another. Green stems that are still young will turn red in the winter, and thus goes the cycle of bright red to bright green throughout the different seasons.
Even the samaras on this tree represent their tree’s name with pride. While other maple seeds tend to be some shade of green during the spring and summer months, the red maple seeds sport a vibrant red tone.
This makes it even easier to distinguish this species of maple as if we’d need any extra help!
Silver Maple Trees Can Produce Lots Of Helicopter Seeds
Another popular one! Silver maples are known for their color tones, as well.
Their attributes are so much more than just a silvery underside of a leaf or even the fact that, as a species, it is one of the most common trees in America.
The first crowning feature of silver maple, besides its distinguishable nature and sheer population size in North America, is the sap it yields.
While other maples, yes, even the red maple, produce a sap that is pretty bitter until processed thoroughly and correctly, the silver maple does not face that issue.
Its byproducts are noted to have a butterscotch undertone, making the syrup a sweet, light, treat to add to a variety of breakfast, pastries, and even savory dishes.
Norway Maple Trees Produce Many Helicopter Seeds
Norway maples are not one that you hear about quite as often as their relatives, namely the maples with a color listed in front of their name.
However, these trees are medium to large and propagate very frequently, thanks to their abundance of seeds and the distance those seeds can spread.
Norway maples have samaras, helicopter seeds, that are each about 2 inches long with two papery wings, as described by Iowa State University’s Natural Resource Stewardship.
Japanese Maple Trees Make Many Helicopter Seeds
A perk of being one of the most versatile trees is that, while Japanese maples pop up pretty frequently each tree tends to not look quite the same as its surrounding trees.
So, even if your helicopter seeds stick and a few new Japanese maples begin to grow, you have the gift of knowing you will be watching completely individual trees grow at different rates and in different styles.
Even leaf shape and size vary, on top of the growth patterns and styles themselves.
With a Japanese maple, you’ll find yourself constantly excited by what new changes arise and how your tree develops over time. Not to mention that they are absolutely beautiful pieces of flora that can enhance any outdoor environment.
When Do Helicopter Seeds Usually Grow?
Helicopter seeds, also called “samaras” grow and fall once per year. The seeds begin to fully mature in the late spring to early summer where they begin to fall off maple trees, similar to leaves in the fall.
How To Maximize Helicopter Seed Growth On Your Maple Tree
There are plenty of easy, natural, and quick ways to give your maple tree a little boost.
If you find yourself wondering what you can do to best support your maple tree, this part is for you!
Using The Right Soil To Maintain Your Maples
Maple trees, according to the Clemson Home and Garden Information Center, prefer rich, porous, and well-drained soil. While these trees are pretty flexible in the pH range of soil they can use to thrive, slightly acid soil seems to be the way to go.
You’ll want to stay within the 5.0-7.0 pH range, avoiding any soils over a pH of 7.3 to ensure that your maple tree has the right conditions it needs to flourish.
Talking about the fact that red and silver maples are two of the biggest producers of helicopter seeds, they also thrive in soil that is pretty wet. This extra hydration they receive may just contribute to the production rates of whirlybirds.
One example of a great maple soil is this Happy Frog Japanese Maple Organic Tree Fertilizer!
Use Fertilizer To Help Maintain Your Maple Trees
It is great, and so important, to know what kind of soil is going to be most beneficial. However, sometimes soil alone is not quite enough to do the trick, especially if your tree seems to have fallen from its former glory.
If that is not the case, and your tree is thriving with the soil it is in, why not do the pre-emptive work of making sure it stays that way?
By using mulch, compost, or other types of fertilizers, you will ensure that your tree is getting the proper access to nutrients that it needs to really thrive and not just survive.
If you are looking for specific additives to help your maple grow, check out this article on the 5 Best Maple Tree Fertilizers!
Using soil with a higher level of acidity along with fertilizer can help make sure that your tree is absorbing all the necessary nutrients. Add in that 5-12 gallons of water weekly, and Bam!, a healthy maple tree free to produce all the helicopter seeds you could imagine.
Water Your Maple Trees Correctly To Help Maintain Them
Depending on age and location, maple trees need anywhere from about 5 to 12 gallons of water a week to stay hydrated, healthy, and happy!
This is something that all trees need, though amounts of water will vary by size of the tree, location and how much rain there is, the amount of sunlight the tree gets, and more.
Just be mindful that, while you’re watering your other plants like flowers and garden vegetables, you should not forget about watering your maple tree once in a while, too.
Maintain Your Maples By Selectively Pruning Them
You should hesitate to prune too much of your maple tree.
Simple upkeep is great, even recommended, but be sure not to overdo it.
Prune in a way that keeps your tree looking nice, and perhaps out of the neighbors’ yard, but don’t think that you should prune just for the sake of pruning.
Most experts will tell you that you should not be trimming away more than 15% of your tree’s branches in a calendar year.
We recommend that you trim enough to suit your needs and goals for your maple tree, but then let it do its thing as nature intended.
While picking a pruning tool depends on you and your tree, one great universal pruner set is this Topbooc 5 Pack Garden Pruning Shears Kit!
Of course, if you have a pest or disease problem, this rule might change. In such a situation, we recommended that you do specific research into symptoms and reach out to your local nursery or a trained professional for advice.
Wrapping It Up!
Maple seeds, samaras, helicopter seeds, whirlygigs, whirlybirds, whatever you’ve decided to call them along the way, these seeds are here to stay.
From a fun snack or addition to a meal to a seed that spreads like crazy and helps keep maple trees in abundance, these little flying bundles have so many purposes.
Even watching them swirl and twist in the air, falling from high branches into the grass is an activity that can be fun for people of all ages.
So take a moment to appreciate the simple joys today, like eating a nice snack or watching nature in action, and thank helicopter seeds for being such a fun yet useful part of it all.
For now, thanks for taking some time to learn!
Green, D. S. (1980). The aerodynamics and dispersal of ash, tuliptree, and maple samaras. Princeton University.
Varshney, K., Chang, S., & Wang, Z. J. (2011). The kinematics of falling maple seeds and the initial transition to a helical motion. Nonlinearity, 25(1), C1.
Jones, H. A. (1920). Physiological study of maple seeds. Botanical Gazette, 69(2), 127-152.
Wada, N., & Ribbens, E. (1997). Japanese maple (Acer palmatum var. matsumurae, Aceraceae) recruitment patterns: seeds, seedlings, and saplings in relation to conspecific adult neighbors. American Journal of Botany, 84(9), 1294-1300.