Maples are annoyingly misrepresented here. Japanese maples are so much more popular than they should be, and imposed by just about every so-called ‘landscaper’ with something to prove, although few of them know or care how to take proper care of them. However, maples that actually develop as shade trees are still uncommon or even rare. Only two species are native locally. Of these, box elder (#5) is rather unimpressive, and bigleaf maple (#6) is potentially too big and too messy for refined home gardens. Norway maple has a bad reputation, but ‘Schwedler’ was a good street tree.

1. Acer platanoides – Norway maple is invasive elsewhere. I do not trust it here. I grafted noninvasive ‘Schwedler’ Norway maple on five naturalized saplings. None took. Ugly saplings survive.

2. Acer platanoides – Norway maple should look like this. I do not remember the name of this cultivar. It supposedly has better bronzed color than ‘Schwedler’. I still prefer classic ‘Schwedler’.

3. Acer rubrum – red maple performs quite well in mild climates, and works well as a street tree with symmetrical and rather compact form. I do not remember the name of this cultivar either.

4. Acer circinatum – vine maple should be more popular here. It is a sculptural understory tree like the countless cultivars of Japanese maple, but is not a Japanese maple. That is why I like it.

5. Acer negundo – box elder should probably be less popular than it is. It is the most common maple of North America, and is native to every state except for Alaska and Hawaii. It is wild here.

6. Acer macrophyllum – bigleaf maple is also native, but only to the West Coast. It is the sugaring maple of the West. This specimen is exemplary, but drops a lot of leaves into a few backyards.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

17 thoughts on “Six on Saturday: Maples

  1. Acer circinatum is new to me – I really like the leaves, but it looks like it would be marginally hardy here…A. platanoides is horribly invasive in Ontario; many municipalities – which use to plant them as street trees – now actively discourage their use.

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    1. Vine maple is native farther north, although I do not know how far north the native range extends. I know that it lives on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, and the southwestern corner of British Columbia. Some range maps indicate that the native range extends as far north as Alaska. I do not know what to believe. I like it as a alternative to Japanese maple, which I am none too keen on. However, it is not as variable as Japanese maple. (I mean, there are only a few cultivars, and the few cultivars are not remarkably different from the straight species.)
      ‘Schwedler’ Norway maple was planted as a street tree in San Jose in the 1950s, probably about the same time that it was popular in places like Cleveland and Detroit. (We think of it as an ‘Eastern’ tree.) ‘Schwedler’ is not invasive because viable seed are extremely rare. However, I was aware of the reputation of the common Norway maple because ‘Schwedler’ is a cultivar of the Norway maple. A pair of Norway maples were planted at one of the cabins here, presumably by the family that formerly owned the cabin. They were probably brought from somewhere else, since there are no common Norway maples here. I found them to be interesting, but also noticed that they managed to produce five saplings in the forest! Of course, I pulled the saplings up and canned them. I really did not know what to do with them, so tried grafting ‘Schwedler’ onto them. I am not only disappointed that the grafts did not take, but also at a loss about what to do with the five Norway maples. I suppose that I could just dispose of them. I will likely just plant them into a situation where they will be pollarded. The problem with that is knowing that someone in the future will not pollard them, and they could eventually produce seed, along with the two maturing specimens that are already here!

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  2. I love maples, especially Acer grandidentatum, the Bigtooth Maple of our Lost Maples state natural area. The trees were common in the midst of hardwood forests until the end of the last great ice age, about 10,000 years ago. Now, the “lost” maples, found in the western hill country, are one remnant of those trees.

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    1. It is interesting that the vine maple is uncommon in other regions also. I thought that it was only uncommon here. I would have expected it to be more familiar in Georgia. Box elder lives just about everywhere in America. It is not invasive here though, since it does not get far from riparian situations. ‘Red Sunset’ is one of the two more popular cultivars of red maple here, but is not the cultivar that provided the leaf in the picture. I do not remember the name, but it is neither ‘Red Sunset’ nor ‘October Glory’.

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      1. Vine maple is a shrubby understory tree, like Japanese maple. In some situations, it is easier to grow. It is not quite as sensitive to aridity as laceleaf Japanese maples are. (It just lacks the aesthetic qualities of some of the cultivars of Japanese maple.)
        ‘Armstrong’ red maple used to one of the ‘relatively’ popular cultivars here. I have not heard that name in quite a while though, not that you mention it.

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      2. Oh, I remember that tree now! It is the columnar sort that was planted in medians in Eastern San Jose. It works where columnar trees are desired, but such applications are uncommon. It looks silly as a single shade tree.

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      3. What?! Oh my! That would not be good among street trees, or trees that flank the tracks of the light rail system! Maples are not afflicted by many pathogens here, perhaps because there are not many maples here. The old ‘Schwedler’ maples get mildew, and are finally succumbing to decay associated with old age, but they worked very well for quite a while. Silver maples rot and fall apart, but that is to be expected.

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      4. Have you ever seen a bigleaf maple there? They are unpopular even here within their native range. The roots are quite aggressive, and their big leaves overwhelm lawn and groundcover when they fall in autumn. There are a few cultivars, but I have never seen one. Perhaps they live in landscape of the Pacific Northwest.

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  3. Interesting that out of such a big family, so few are common, with you as with us here. Vine Maple and bigleaf maple are both rare here. Acer pseudoplatanus is the invasive equivalent of Norway Maple, though it’s been naturalised for centuries. Was it taken to the USA and is it a menace there too? Is A. pensylvanicum grown much outside its native range. I might have expected the fall colour species to be widely grown, red and silver maples and isn’t there a hybrid between the two? The Japanese Maples, especially A. palmatum, are very common here, but conditions suit them by and large. Our own native Field Maple, A. campestre, can be a characterful smallish tree, and colours bright yellow in autumn.

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    1. Bigleaf maple is probably my favorite, even though it is not the best for home gardens. There are some right outside. However, because I know how aggressive the roots can be, I can understand why it is rare there. Vine maple should be more popular though. I suspect that it lacks popularity because Japanese maple is so overly popular. Realistically, Japanese maple is much more variable, and much more interesting. I have never met an Acer pseudoplatanus, and I do not know if it is naturalized elsewhere like the Norway maple is in the East. Norway maple has a bad reputation for naturalizing in the East, but is no problem here, perhaps because only the almost sterile cultivars were introduced. I suspect that it has potential to naturalize in the Pacific Northwest, but, except for the cultivars, is unpopular there. Like Acer pseudoplatanum, I have never met Acer pennsylvanicum. Silver maple is uncommon, but not totally rare. It is a big shade tree for big spaces, but is not colorful. It grows up fast, but does not last much more than half a century. I planted three at my mother’s home, and really enjoyed them, but I also knew what to expect from them. I have never recommended them to a client. Cultivars of red maple are some of the best maples for this region. They are complaisant to urban situations, nicely colorful in mild climates, and well structured. They only became popular in the 1990s or so, but might be the most popular shade tree maples presently. ‘Freeman’ maple is a hybrid of silver maple and red maple, and is also an excellent maple for the mild climate here. It gets a bit larger than red maple, with a more open branch structure. Its fall color may be even better than that of red maple. Japanese maple is popular here because it fits small urban gardens, and because so-called ‘landscapers’ impose it so commonly on their clients who might otherwise be happier with a ‘real’ tree. I dislike most of them because they have become so common, but are not so well suited to the climate. Acer campestre is a third maple that I have never met before.

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  4. Great to see all the variety in the bigger maples – you are right about the japanese maples being very popular, here they are the right size for small gardens and front gardens. My neighbour’s one looks wonderful atm.

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    1. While we were in school in the 1980s, it seemed as if Japanese maples had not yet become so excessively common. We appreciated the few that we saw around town, even those that occupied spaces in which larger trees would have been more appropriate. It annoys me that such a useful and interesting species has become so cheapened.

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