The Majestic and Magnificent Maples
The Acer Maples are among the most abundantly used shade trees in North America. With their outstanding fall foliage and fast growth, they are a prized landscaping specimen. Although some can achieve heights of up to 100 feet or more, there are also many smaller varieties suitable for smaller landscapes. The Sugar Maples pictured above are only 12 years old and are already nearly 40 feet tall.
Maples are commonly recognized by their distinctive palmate (like the palm of your hand) leaves and winged seeds, often referred to as “keys” or “helicopters”, but officially named samaras. What most people don’t realize, is that the seeds often do not appear until a maple is as much as 22-40 years old. Some varieties produce colorful seeds, some varieties produce seeds prized by birds and squirrels, and some can cause significant littering with abundant seeds that drop to the ground. There are also several hybrid varieties that are seedless if you prefer to avoid the mess. Or, if possible, purchase a male variety that does not produce seeds.
Although Maple trees are not planted for their ornamental flowering, they do in fact flower in order to produce seeds. In many cases the flowering is so insignificant that it is not even noticed, but some display showy red flowers. Both male and female trees may flower, and some specimens may posess both male and female flowers simultaneously. Sugar Maples often take the longest to produce flowers and seeds, and may not produce every year. Norway Maples produce seeds abundantly.
Each species of Maple has a different set of characteristics, and each cultivar (specific named variety) has unique characteristics.
Acer rubrum Red Maple The Red Maple is very adaptable to a variety of conditions, perhaps the most adaptable tree in North America. In general it grows well in nearly any soil, wet, dry, high and low elevations and a wide pH range. although very alkaline soils may produce chlorosis (yellowing of the leaves, eventually causing the death of the tree unless treated). Very adaptable roots contributes to the overall adaptability of the tree. It will produce long taproots or wide lateral roots to suit the moisture availability of the site. An individual root can grow as long as 80 feet. Red Maple matures at about 70 to 80 years and lives for up to 150 years, making it a short to medium lived tree. It is a medium to large tree at a mature height of 60-90 feet, with a spread of around 40 feet. Red Maple is known for it’s brilliant red autumn foliage, but the “Red” name comes from it’s red flowers, leaf stems, twigs and seeds.
Acer saccharum Sugar Maple Sugar Maple prefers a cool moist climate. It is also very adaptable to a range of soil types except sand, but does not do well in very dry or very wet conditions. Sugar Maple is also one of the most shade tolerant decidous trees, and is very tolerant of urban conditions. Flowers and seeds often take 22 years or more to develop, and will flower more heavily as the tree ages. Sugar Maple is a very long lived tree, up to 3 or 400 hundred years. At maturity heights of 75-100’ is reached. Rooting is strongly lateral.
Acer platanoides Norway Maple Norway Maple is very tolerant of urban conditions including pollution and herbicides and does very well in difficult sites such as street boulevards. In general they will tolerate hot and dry conditions. Although it does not display the striking fall colors and beautiful shaping of other maples, there is a good variety of shape, size and foliage available. Foliage typically turns golden yellow very late into autumn and often holds its leaves until after the first snowfall. Norway Maple grows at a moderate rate, reaching 40-50’ high and 30-45’ wide, but can grow as high as 90 feet. Roots are shallow and extensive, so it is difficult to grow plants under it’s canopy.
Acer saccharinum Silver Maple Silver Maple is a relatively fast growing tree, reaching a mature size of 50-80 feet high and 30-50 feet wide, occasionally reaching up to 115’ high. It is also very adaptable but does require more sun than other maples. High pH soil is not preferred. The Silver Maple is not as commonly planted as other maples partly because of it’s brittle wood, they are easily damaged in storms. Also the roots are shallow and invasive, often causing problems to neary septic systems, sidewalks and foundations. It is, however, highly tolerant of urban conditions and at one time was frequently planted along streets. Silver Maple is also a prolific seeder, however one variety is seedless, ‘Mareltoi’ and the ‘Silver Queen’ is nearly fruitless.
Acer freemani Most of the seedless maples are freemanii hybrids, being a combination of Red Maple and Silver Maple. The freemanii varieties are salt resistant, have very few pest problems, have much stronger wood than the silver maples, and possess the brilliant fall colors of the Red Maples.
Acer grandidentatum Bigtooth Maple The Bigtooth Maple is closely related to the Sugar Maple. It is actually more of a Western and Southwestern tree, but can be found in Midwest-Western states such as Montana and Idaho. It is highly drought tolerant and able to grow in rocky regions.
Acer nigrum Black Maple Black Maple is closely related to the Sugar Maple, but is not commonly used as an ornamental tree. Black Maple is a source for maple syrup sap.
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