Trees Have Sex? Rutgers Researchers Have All the Answers

fe0a98e6ccc3d719f7cc_F134-03.jpg
Amur Maple (Acer ginnala) at Rutgers Landscape & Nursery Credits: Rutgers University
fe0a98e6ccc3d719f7cc_F134-03.jpg
New Brunswick, NJ - A few years ago, Rutgers researcher Jennifer Blake-Mahmud was working on a botany project in Virginia when colleagues pointed out a striped maple, a common tree in the understory of mountain forests from Nova Scotia to Georgia. 

“They told me, ‘We think it switches sex from year to year, but we don’t know why,’ and I said, ‘No way! How can that be?’ Blake-Mahmud said. “And that was when I decided I needed to find out what was going on.”

In research published in the journal Trees: Structure and Function, Blake-Mahmud reports that striped maples not only change their sex periodically, but that they can wait until the last minute – three weeks before flowering – to do it. The switch appears to be triggered by physical damage, which can prompt a branch to flower female if it’s cut off a male tree. 

Sign Up for E-News

Blake-Mahmud, a doctoral student in the School of Graduate Studies at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, cut branches from healthy, mature striped maples from state forests in northern New Jersey. She took the samples to her lab, where she let them flower.

She expected that striped maples, like most trees, would prepare themselves for reproduction by fashioning the tiny flower sex parts many months before they flowered. Apple trees, for instance, have already made their buds for the next year just six-weeks after flowering finishes for this year.

Surprisingly, the cuttings from her striped maples waited…and waited...and waited to finish developing. Even three weeks before natural blooming time, the buds were still flexible and could bloom female if cut off the tree or male if left untouched.  This means that the tree can wait until very late to make up its mind about which kind of flowers – male or female – to have. “These trees were the arboreal equivalent of last-minute Christmas shoppers,” Blake-Mahmud said

The trigger turned out to be the act of cutting a branch off the tree – physical damage. And most of the branches taken from male trees expressed themselves as female when they bloomed in the greenhouse. Blake-Mahmud said this suggests that physical damage plays a role in sex expression, although she isn’t certain yet what sort of damage. She noted that even without people cutting off branches, striped maples lead a perilous life. “There are deer rubbing their antlers against them, bears scratching against them, taller trees that die and fall on them,” she said.

Blake-Mahmud’s co-author and adviser is Lena Struwe, a professor of plant biology, ecology, evolution and natural resources in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.

Blake-Mahmud noted that arboreal sex isn’t a field that many people are familiar with. When she explains that she’s a botanist who studies how plants express sex, she often gets two reactions. “People say, ‘Whoa, plants have sex?’” Assured that plants do, people then often ask why she doesn’t study sex in animals. “I tell them that sex in plants is much more complex, much more interesting, than sex in animals,” she said. “If you’re interested in reproduction, plants are definitely the way to go.” 

 

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Piscataway

Edison Public Library Donation Drive for Edison Animal Shelter

June 6, 2018

The Edison Township Free Public Library is partnering with the Edison Animal Shelter to do a donation drive for the Edison Animal Shelter. There is a checklist of all items that are being accepted at the animal shelter. These checklists can be found above and the donation bins will be available at all three branches. We will be collecting items until the end of June. For more ...

Two Busted in $2.3 Million Perfume Heist from Edison Warehouse, say Feds

June 18, 2018

NEWARK, N.J. – Two men have been charged for their alleged roles in transporting $2.3 million worth of perfume products stolen from an Edison warehouse, according to U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito.

Yunior Estevez, 33, of Hollywood, Florida, and Carlos Duvergel, 53, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, were both charged by complaint with conspiracy and with the interstate transport of stolen ...

Obituaries

Toms River – Mary Stella Whiteman, 97, passed away peacefully Saturday May 19, 2018 in Rose ...
Read more
Piscataway – Reinhard Rudolf Kiefer, 85, died Sunday March 11, 2018 at home. Born in ...
Read more

MCRO Chairwoman Panos Celebrates Re-Election, Promises Party Unity to Defeat Menendez

June 15, 2018

FORDS, NJ-  Middlesex County Republican Organization (MCRO) Chairwoman Lucille Panos of Old Bridge was re-elected to a second two-year term as that organization's chairwoman.  Also re-elected were Edison chairwoman Sylvia Engel as vice-chair, and South Brunswick chairwoman Antonia Kulberda as secretary.  Rounding out the victors was Harold Kane of Monroe, ...

Promise Culinary School Slates Open Houses June 21 and 22 in New Brunswick with Tours, Tastings, Prizes

Promise Culinary School will host open houses for the community and prospective students on Thursday, June 21, from noon to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and on Friday, June 22, from noon to 4 p.m. at 211 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick. The events are free and open to the public.

The events will include kitchen tours, demonstrations, tastings, raffles and prizes. Tours and activities will be ...

Rutgers-Camden students who saved man from fire honored by City of Camden

Camden, NJ—The Rutgers-Camden students who saved an elderly man from a March fire at his Cooper Street home were honored by the City of Camden Tuesday night.

Mayor Frank Moran awarded proclamations to Corey Zytko, Jonathan Perez-Gaytan, Matteo Resanovic, Vanessa Solis Palma, Sehwan Park and Tammy Meneses on Tuesday, June 12.

On the night of March 23, the students were hanging out in ...

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_8f0a915f696bb2ae1366_community_shred

Sat, June 23, 9:00 AM

Quibbletown Park, Piscataway

Piscataway Township Paper Shredding Event

Government Green

Wed, June 27, 7:00 PM

Piscataway Public Library, Piscataway

Empowerment for the Job Search: Applications & ...

Business & Finance

Thu, July 5, 7:00 PM

Piscataway Public Library, Piscataway

Trivia Night at the Library!

Arts & Entertainment

Wed, July 11, 7:30 PM

Chatham United Methodist Church, Chatham

Masterwork’s Summer Sing Three to Feature Fauré ...

Arts & Entertainment

Suspect Charged with Using Sword in Fight Over Parking Spot in Manville

June 18, 2018

SOMERVILLE, NJ  - A Manville man has been charged with aggravated assault and other charges after police say he attacked another man with a sword in a dispute over a parking space.

The victim had attacked the suspect, Jared Razzano, 35, of North 9th Avenue, with a contractor’s four-foot level, according to the Somerset County  Prosecutor's Office, but he has not been ...

A Date with Destiny

Leslie. . . it would be the bomb . . .  if we could go to prom . . . together.

 

For the record, Leslie is my wife, and this is my openly public attempt at a promposal.  

 

My twin high school seniors taught me about promposals, those cute, showy, and sometimes over-the-top ways of asking someone special to prom.  This year they have been on both the ...