The Fruit of Maples: Samara or Schizocarp?

What is the fruit of maples (Acer spp.) called? I’ve always thought of maple fruit as a samara. In fact, I think of maple fruit as the classic example of a samara. A samara is a winged achene. So the fruit is an achene (a small, indehiscent, single-seeded fruit, with the seed and pericarp attached only by a funiculus) which is paired with a wing.

The achene at the bottom of the wing.

But there is a problem with this. Maple fruit consists of two samaras that are joined together. So are the samaras just held in pairs, or is there a better word to describe what they are?

A typical maple fruiting structure contains two joined samaras.

Enter schizocarp. A schizocarp is a dry or fleshy fruit derived from a two-to many-carpellate gynoecium that breaks into one (or few) seeded segments at maturity. Wings are not part of the definition. But do not lose hope! A winged schizocarp is described as a samara-like schizocarp or (in my favorite phrasing) a samaroid schizocarp.

References will conflict on the classification of maple fruit. My experience is that most formal botany sources will side with a version of schizocarp, most informal tree guides and horticultural books will side with some use of samara.

This is an example of plants choosing not to fit perfectly into the categories we have created for them.

You might think this is worthless information, but I bet you’ll find a way to drop this in conversation if you try. Samaroid schizocarps are worthy of some attention.


Judd, W.S., C.S. Campbell, E.A. Kellogg, P.F. Stevens, and M.J. Donoghue. 2002. Plant systematics: A phylogenetic approach. 2nd ed. Sinauer Associates. Sunderland, MA.

Murrel, Z.E. 2010. Vascular plant taxonomy. 6th ed. Kendall Hunt. Dubuque, IA.

Raven, P.H., R.F. Evert, and S.E Eichhorn. 1999. Biology of plants. 6th ed. Freeman Co. New York, NY.



Filed under Horticulture

3 responses to “The Fruit of Maples: Samara or Schizocarp?

  1. Anonymous

    samaroid schizocarp is in my plant key, which was published in 2012.

  2. Anonymous

    Very useful, thanks!

  3. Janell

    Thanks Ben! I googled for some terms and pictures for our botany lesson and lo and behold your site came up. Thanks from back in State College.

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