May 5, 2024 - News

Why we're seeing pink helicopters around Chicago

Photo of a pink helicopters on a plate
Monica's been seeing pink samaras all over Lakeview and Lincoln Park. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

This spring I've been delighted to see so many maple trees dropping lovely pink samaras (aka maple tree helicopters) instead of the usual green ones.

Why it matters: Facebook friends are reporting the same mysterious change across the city and suburbs, but no one really knows why.

Context: Experts note that some trees — especially red maples — produce pink samaras, but they're not quite sure why so many maples would switch from green to pink this year.

pink samaras
Pink samaras. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

The theory: When I reached out to The Morton Arboretum, Openlands and Chicago Botanic Garden, the best guess came from Openlands senior forestry program manager Tom Ebeling.

  • He conjectures the pink ones could be coming from a silver and red maple hybrid called a Freeman that can produce both green and pink helicopters.
  • And maybe, after this warm dryish winter and spring, "something in the climate is encouraging them to show their pink cards this year."
samaras
Some maple samaras stayed their normal color this year in trees right next to ones that produced pinks. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios.

The request: If you're a tree specialist with further insight, please write to [email protected] and help us out.

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