Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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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

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 trunks.

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 the same.

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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