12 01 2022

Kyoto, Japan
Hayato & Mika Nishiyama
from Mitate

Japanese maples bloom in April or May with small, dangling red flowers reminiscent of tiny fireworks, surprisingly unnoticed by many. Instead, in the depths of autumn when the leaves suddenly begin to turn bright red, people rush to mountains and temples in search of the beautiful sight. Perhaps consider the autumn leaves to be the true “flowers” of the maple trees.


There are several other “flowers” of maple trees. First, some species have red spring shoots, commonly known as spring maples. It is thought that the reddish-purple pigment called anthocyanin protects the tender young leaves from the sun, preventing the chloroplasts from being harmed. This phenomenon is also seen in Hyugamizuki roses as well as in various other plants.


In June, they produce propeller-like red seeds, which hang on the tree like “flowers” through summer. When they turn brown and dry in the autumn, they fly in the wind, spinning around and germinating where ever they land. In the middle of summer, the leaves of just one branch turn bright red, caused by damage to the base of the branch by insects, which is known as Wakuraba.


The sprout, flower, winged fruit, diseased leaves, or red autumn leaves… what do people really see as “flowers”? If the maple trees bloom five times a year, the one before my eyes is the last ephemeral bloom of the year. As these thoughts go through my mind, I quietly break off a small branch to carry home.