Monday, May 17, 2010

Acer, Amazon, ambiguity and trees

click photo to enlarge
Say the word "Acer" to the average young person and they are likely to bring to mind a shiny notebook computer, the product of Acer Inc., a Taiwan-based multinational electronics company. It's surprising how quickly such associations take hold. Consider "Amazon". Once it referred only to the South American river of that name. However, today, for many people, it is firstly the internet retailer, and only secondly a geographical feature.

That said, the word acer means more than one thing for people like me who see it as the name of a variety of tree. It is actually descriptive of the species known as the maple. But, whilst gardeners think of the ornamental tree with copper, green, red, orange or yellow leaves (a variety represented in today's photograph), others know it as the maple that produces the North American syrup, yet others as the Norway Maple of Europe whose wood has commercial uses, whilst some foresters (including those in Britain) see it as the sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), an invasive tree that is something of a woodland weed.

My garden has two ornamental acers: one with light green leaves that is thriving, and another with copper leaves that was hit so hard by the long, deep freeze of last winter that I had to cut dead parts off it, and it now grows as a squat, mis-shapen thing, not much of an asset to its rockery location. A sycamore grows just over my garden boundary, and true to its type it is prolific. Every autumn its "helicopter" seeds whirl down onto my vegetable garden, lawn and borders. Then, in spring, it seems that every single one takes root in an attempt to grow a forest around its parent. The mower deals with those in the lawn, but the rest need hoeing. And, try as we might to get each seedling, there are always a few that elude us and become established.

I took today's photograph when the leaves of this ornamental tree were at their best under a bright but cloudy sky. The fresh yellow/green really stands out in the garden, but over the next couple of months it will tone down to a deeper green until, in autumn, it changes hue once more. The word "acer" comes from the Latin and means "sharp" (as well as keen, eager, severe and fierce): in this case referring to the pointed shape of the genus' leaves.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm macro (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/125
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On