Other Members of the Maple Clan
Nature Bulletin No. 398-A December 5, 1970
Forest Preserve District of Cook CountyGeorge W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
OTHER MEMBERS OF THE MAPLE CLAN
The streets of many towns, particularly here in the Middle West, are
lined with big old Silver Maples, so-named because the undersides of
the pale green 5-lobed leaves are silvery. They were planted because
the tree grows rapidly but, unfortunately, its large limbs and long
drooping branches are so brittle that they may be badly crippled by
wind and ice storms. It is attacked by the cottony maple scale, a sucking
insect, and by boring beetles. Fungus diseases cause heart rot and
hollow trunks. So it is not a good street tree but in the wild such cavities
provide homes for owls, raccoons and possums .
This Soft Maple, as many people call it, blooms very early in spring,
long before the leaves appear, when the twigs are covered with dull red
buds and thick clusters of short-stalked yellowish-green flowers which
have no petals. These are followed by clusters of winged seeds in pairs,
which are larger and joined at a wider angle than those of the sugar
maple. It grows throughout eastern United States in lowlands and
especially along stream banks in company with willows, cottonwoods,
elms and ashes. Its brittle wood has many uses but is much inferior to
that of the sugar maple. A variety with finely-divided leaves, the Cutleaf
Maple, is more admired as a shade tree.
The Red Maple is another fast-growing species of the stream banks and
lowlands: especially swamps. In early spring it i9 beautiful: covered
with clusters of little ruby red flowers which, on this maple, have petals.
The leaves -- often 3-lobed; bright green above and whitish underneath,
with reddish stems -- appear much later. In early fall they turn to
brilliant shades of red, sometimes mixed with orange. Its wood is
ranked commercially between that of sugar maple and the silver maple.
The Boxelder, or Ash-Leafed Maple, is unique in having compound
leaves with from 3 to 7, rarely 9, pale green pointed leaflets that are
extremely variable in shape. Its seedlings are often mistaken for poison
ivy. In autumn the leaflets turn dingy yellow and quickly drop off, but
clusters of the winged seeds may hang on all winter. Its natural habitat
is in low ground and stream banks almost anywhere in temperate North
America east of the Rocks, but it is very hardy, quick growing, and
thrives even on the dry prairies, so it has been widely used for
windbreaks and shelterbelts.
In the Middle West, prior to 1900, it was widely planted as a shade tree
and now grows like weeds along roadsides and hedgerows. However, it
is usually a small or medium-sized tree, irregular in shape, short lived,
and attacked by hordes of sucking, boring and leaf-eating insects. Its
very light soft wood is almost useless. Along the creek in White Pines
State Park. are four or five huge boxelders with massive, very knotty
The Black Maple has a smaller, more northern range than the sugar
maple, of which most experts consider it to be a variety. The bark is
darker and finely corrugated (not coarsely plated), the leaves are darker
and usually 3-lobed (instead of 5), but otherwise the two trees are much
Two small maples are usually found together in the north woods: the
Striped Maple, which has green bark with white stripes, and the
Mountain Maple. They are valuable as browse for deer and moose, and
the buds are winter food for grouse. Along the Pacific coast, from
Alaska to southern California, there are four other species but only the
Bigleaf Maple is valuable as a lumber and shade tree. Its broad leaves
are from 6 to 12 inches long.
These, and the sugar maple, are the principal American kinds.
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Update: June 2012