FIELD MAPLE (Acer campestre)

The Field Maple is a very rustic species and undemanding in terms of soils; it prefers calcareous ones, but also grows well in clay ones. It can be found from sea level up to 1200 metres. Its growth is very slow and can reach 100 years of age.

The crown is expanded and ovoid, the stem twisted and branched. The bark is yellowish when young and then becomes brown-greyish with rectangular plates.

It’s a deciduous species. Its leaf has a 5 lobed palmate lamina. The upper page is dark green and the lower one is lighter. In autumn the leaves assume a typical yellow-gold color. The flowers are hermaphroditic but, from the functional point of view, they behave as unisexual. They give rise to fruits called “samaras” that have a 2-4 cm long wing. Samaras are dispersed by the wind from mid-October.

The Field Maple was called by the tuscan paesants testucchio, opium, oppo or loppo. It was widespread in the countryside and used to produce small utensils and to form hedges. The leaves fed the animals and the wood gave a good fuel.

Its most important use was in viticulture as it often acted as a living guardian for vines. From this comes the term “married vine”, a system of cultivation widespread in the past that has strongly characterized the agricultural landscape of the central-northern regions.

The link between the vine and the tree was related to a marriage and indicated an inseparable and sacre bond.

This “marriage” had to guarantee a low competitiveness between the vines and the living supports, both above and underground, and a life expectancy almost equal (on average 30-40 years).

The Field Maple is suitable to be married to the vine because it has a very slow growth and bears very well the pruning and does not enter into strong competition with the vine (which needs air and light). The guardian trees were pruned in order to reduce their height and the branches were imposed a horizontal growth so that they could connect to those of neighboring trees; in this way a back was obtained on which the screw could be held forming a “festoon”.

Vines were planted at the bottom of the tree and were grown up with  a pruning system that favoured the development in height, up to the crown of the guardian.

The cultivation system of the married vine was typical of an economy of self-sufficiency, where there was no specialized vineyard. The Field Maples were placed in rows to form the so called “planted”; these often constituted the borders of the cultivated land but were also found along banks, canals and country roads. It is now very rare to find the traditional rows of maple fields in the Tuscan countryside.

The system of cultivation of vines on the guardian trees is an Etruscan heritage. The geographical area of this cultivation practice coincided, in fact, with that of the maximum expansion of this civilization. In the etruscan language there was the term “atalson” which means vine linked to the tree; this was also widely represented in ceramics.

In Roman times this form of cultivation is consolidated and associated with the regular pattern of centuriation. The married vine was called “arbustum gallicum” and can be found on various sculptures.

In Christian culture the vine-tree union is taken as a symbol of help among the faithful or as allegory of the cross that sustain life. The married vine can be also found in ancient cadastral maps and landscape paintings.