Open maple flowers

A Northwest native, the big-leaf maple – 50 to 150 feet tall, with plate-sized leaves – is hard to miss. Still, a lot of people would have a hard time identifying its flowers, though they’re a brilliant acid green, 3-4 inches long, edible, beautiful, and filling the leaf-less trees right now.

Greens in a flower arrangement give your eyes a welcome rest between flowers. But spring greens can be tricky to come by in the Pacific Northwest if you’re growing and arranging only with local flowers. There aren’t many things I can grow that make cuttable foliage in March and April, as most foliage plants have to mature and sometimes even bloom before their leaves will hold up in a vase. Some shrubs can be used in spring, though it seems to me that their heavier leaves and colors don’t go very well with soft pastel spring flowers. So sometimes I turn to foraged greens in spring – and one of my favorites, if you use ‘greens’ broadly, are big-leaf maple flowers.

These soft beaded-green pendulous blooms dwarf all other maple flowers and they’re pretty from start to finish. In March the 2-inch buds in shiny pale red carapaces began to appear.

Now, in early April, the buds are splitting and the maples are full of flowers unfurling in thousands of small green chandeliers.

The flowers drape a little in bouquets, like millet or amaranth. I’ve read they’re edible and I’ve seen recipes online but I haven’t tried eating them yet – I save all mine for bouquets. I don’t like to cut too many, even though the giant trees hold 99% of their gorgeousness well out of my reach.  There’s something impressive and resource-intensive about the flower that makes me use it sparingly.

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