90605This ain’t no ordinary maple. Although there are other maples with trifoliate leaves (divided into three distinct palmately arranged leaflets), box elder, Acer negundo, is the only maple with pinnately compound leaves (divided into three or more distinct leaflets that are arranged pinnately on a central rachis). Leaflets might be solitary too. Almost all other maples have palmately lobed leaves.

Box elder is considered to be the ‘trashy’ maple. It grows fast, but only lives for about half a century. The happiest barely get to be twice as old. Because it gets more than forty feet tall, possibly with multiple trunks wider than two feet, it can become quite a big mess as it deteriorates and drops limbs. Yet, it is aggressive enough to have naturalized in many regions where it is not native.

Despite all this, and the lack of good foliar color where autumn weather is mild, a few cultivars of box elder have been developed for landscape use. ‘Flamingo’, which is likely the most popular, is variegated with white through summer, after pink new growth fades. ‘Violaceum’ develops smoky bluish growth in spring. ‘Auratum’ starts out yellowish. Mature leaflets are about three inches long.


6 thoughts on “Box Elder

    1. I don’t know what the young ones look like. Poison oak has smaller but thicker leaves. What I think is odd about the box elders here is that not many leaves have more than three leaflets. A few have five. Seven leaflets on a single leaf would be an oddity.


  1. One of my favourite trees. Fond childhood memories of climbing them. There was one that uprooted and fell across the small creek near us and it lay there perfectly horizontal and with stout upright branches all like small trees growing from a prostate log. That was our bridge never mind that the creek was small enough to just step over. It is a great tree too because it is so prolific and survives well on the flood plains of the rivers along with willows. It is great for firewood too. My father once trimmed back one leaving just an upright one foot diameter, 15 foot high bole with a few short stubs and that tree grew back into quite a large tree with a nice well rounded form.
    P.S. I cannot always get the “Like” button to work but I do like, in the fullest sense of that word, each of your posts. I learn a lot. Thanks for all the effort.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, you are welcome. This one is just from my weekly gardening column. The main articles post on Mondays. The featured species post on Tuesdays. Thursdays and Fridays are for older articles and featured species.
      Some insist that box elder is no good for firewood, but I think that it is all about how it is used. As long as it is cut early and used the following winter, it is fine. (I would cut mine over winter just because that is when I get to it.) Because it is someone perishable, it should be used within the following winter. Those who try to cut too much and store it for a few years in the weather just are not managing it properly.


  2. I never hear ‘box elder’ without thinking of box elder bugs. When I first encountered milkweed bugs here in Texas, I briefly assumed they were the box elder bugs I grew up with in Iowa.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, those things are nasty in some groves. For some reason, they are not a problem in the grove right outside here. I would have mentioned box elder bugs, but this article is an excerpt from my gardening column, which has limited space.

      Liked by 1 person

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