All around Michigan fall is celebrated for its beautiful colors, but not so much the raking of leaves.

One thing seems different in many yards this year. Seedling "helicopters" or "whirlers" are out of control.

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We reached out to Board-Certified Master Arborist, Jonathon Clase, at A&J Tree Care in Durand, MI for answers to our questions.

Q: Does heavy rain impact fall color or how many helicopters are produced?

Clase Answer: Heavy rains, in general, impact our trees in several different ways.

  • Different types of soil can only handle a certain amount of rain / water.
  • After that the water will sit on top of the soil causing the trees and plants to wilt.
  • Soils contain beneficial nutrients and are porous. Soils have room for air and water and when they are flooded the air cannot get to the roots of the trees.

Again, trees with stress will do a number of different things with their seed production and growth when they are stressed.

Beautiful fall colors from Maple Trees. Credit: Canva
Beautiful fall colors from Maple Trees. Credit: Canva

Q: How did smoke from this year's Canadian Wildfires impact trees?

Clase Answer: While wildfires create carbon dioxide, which is a beneficial component in the production of sugar for trees, it also produces harmful greenhouse gasses. These gasses contribute to climate change and overall global warming which is why we are seeing trees that are more stressed.

Global warming causes our temperature zones to change and stops native trees from being able to survive in the new climate.

Q: Why are maple trees creating so many helicopters in Michigan this year?

Clase Answer: In general, when a tree grows a large amount of seedlings, it is usually due to stress. Trees use photosynthesis to create energy. This energy is used in five different areas and in this order,

  • 1. respiration
  • 2. structure
  • 3. storage
  • 4. defense
  • 5. reproduction.

When the tree is under stress it can move energy in the form of sugar from one area to another which is why when you see a tree with a lot of seeds, if you look closer, you may notice what area the energy came from.

Credit: Canva
Seeds known as helicopters, whirlers, spinning jenny, whirligig, whirlybird and wing-nut are known by the professionals as "Samaras." Credit: Canva

It may have smaller leaves or not as much new growth. It may not be healing from wounds or fighting off insects and disease as well.

Q: Any factors from Spring/Summer 2023 impact how trees will grow next year?

Clase Answer: Trees have growth rings which are inside of the trunk. Looking at the growth rings one can determine what type of environment a tree grew in.

Typically, trees are able to rebound from different stressors, so long as the tree was and is healthy, a tree can rebound from a year of bad climate.

But looking at the issue of climate change and global warming, we should expect to see a bigger change in tree diversity than what we have now.

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What makes maple trees produce the most sap for syrup?

According to the USDA "Sap flow is heavily weather-dependent, with temperature fluctuations creating pressure within the tree to move the sap.  Among maple producers, it is well-known that spring temperatures must fall below freezing (usually at night) and rise above freezing (usually during the day), for sap to flow."

Collection of Maple Sap for Syrup. Credit: Canva
Collection of Maple Sap for Syrup. Credit: Canva

Thank you to Jonathon Clase for his expertise. He is a Board-Certified Master Arborist (Mi-4115BU), Tree Risk Assessment Qualified, Utility Arborist, Oak Wilt Qualified Specialist, Tree Care Safety Specialist.

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