Why the leaf of the sycamore maple has five points (030)

Nowadays maple seedlings spring up in our woods and parks. Conservationists are quick to label them ‘weeds’, because the young saplings rapidly overshadow other saplings and woodland plants. Maple is a hard wood with a silk-like sheen often used in making musical instruments and furniture. With its five points the tree’s leaf has the form of a hand. These five extremities are a permanent reminder of the royal family Acer, a family torn by greed and jealousy resulting in the drama related in this Hungarian fairy tale. Draw near and listen…

First, a little background information: in the Middle Ages a certain King Acer was ruler over one of the many colonies which together now make up Europe. In those dark times a king with only daughters was to be pitied: sons were essential for the survival of a small kingdom.
The Acer Royals have three fine daughters. The Princesses Campestra and Noor are two beautiful and charming young ladies who try winning the heart of young princes in particular who live in nearby kingdoms. Platana, the youngest of the three is also the tallest. She is well-built, brave and strong: neither common nor desirable qualities in a young princess. People are often heard whispering to one another: “Thank goodness,” they say, “she has such an extraordinarily beautiful white, silky fair skin.” But Platana’s most striking quality is without doubt her winning charm. Everyone falls for the magic of the tall youngest daughter of the Acer Royal Family.
Attracted like bees to honey, all the suitable crown princes lose their heart to the sweet-natured princess. This triggers strong feelings of envy in her sisters who react by making their youngest sister’s life a misery. Then Platana falls for an influential but ugly prince from a neighbouring kingdom. “It’s not his appearance which counts,” she says to anyone who asks, “It’s his kindness, honesty and cheerful disposition.” The king and his wife are absolutely thrilled that Platana has won the heart of the best candidate from far around to become their successor.

With envy in their eyes and bitterness in their hearts, the sisters see their chance of becoming queen vanish. One pitch black moonless night they stab their rival sibling in the heart. Platana was buried beneath an old oak in the palace garden. Only three days after the murder something amazing happens: the sisters cannot believe their eyes when they see a vigorous young sycamore sapling growing exactly on their sister’s grave. They know for sure this is a message from Platana, because the tree’s leaf has five points referring to their family: father, mother and three children. Furious that Platana even manages to live on after her death, the sisters hack down the sapling and throw it on the compost heap outside the palace gardens. A shepherd boy and his herd happen to pass by. He is struck by the beauty of the fine trunk with its fair white wood. For days on end he lovingly carves and polishes the wood into a flute. When he plays for the first time, he is enchanted by its beautiful warm sounds. When the King and Queen hear the delicate tones drifting through their bedroom window, they are deeply moved and invite the shepherd boy to become their court flautist. Though they never find out that these sounds come from the tree that had sprouted on Platana’s grave, as time passes their pain and grief at their child’s death is eased by the flute’s clear and delicate music.

In the Low Lands there are three kinds of sycamores: the most common type, the tall sycamore maple (acer  pseudoplátanus), can become 500 years old; the small native “hedge maple’  (acer campéstre); and the widely planted ‘norway maple’ (acer platanoides). Initially the sycamore maple grows fast, quickly dominating other saplings in new woods and parks. It is a strong tree and very undemanding with respect to soil type so long as this is fertile. The Latin name of the sycamore maple “pseudoplátanus” indicates its similarity to the plane-tree: on reaching  maturit its bark also peels off.  A common sight in our towns and cities. The wood is white and much loved by the makers of furniture, kitchens and instruments. The leaf of the ‘sugar maple (acer saccharum), commonly referred to as the ‘Maple Leaf’, adorns the Canadian national flag.
In Egypt the sycamore maple is seen  as  a mythical tree. There are numerous well-known tales and legends like this Hungarian one. Its origin is presumed Egyptian, but may well date back even further.  Its influence is clear not only in tales such as King Lear, Beauty & the Beast and The Magic Flute, but also in biblical stories such as Kane & Abel or Joseph & his brothers.


© Els Baars, Natuurverhalen.nl

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Els Baars