Maple is one of the most beautiful and the most versatile trees. It has been accorded national importance by the Canadian government since 1965 – the maple leaf features prominently on the national flag of Canada. Let’s have a look at the different varieties of maple trees.
Did you know?
Comfort Maple is a 500-year-old sugar maple tree in Ontario, Canada. It is 80 feet tall and 20 feet in circumference at the base. It is regarded as the oldest maple in Canada.
Maple trees are deciduous trees, which belong to the Aceraceae family, and have about 128 different species. While most of the species are native to Asia, quite a large number of them also grow in Europe, North America, and northern Africa. The tree stands apart in its identification due to its distinctly shaped and arranged leaves. Its leaves are palm-shaped, veined, and lobed in green, red, orange, and/or yellow hues that always have a pleasing effect on the viewer. The tree bears small flowers, depending upon its variety. The flowers are borne in clusters, with small winged-fruits called ‘samaras’.
Maple trees have a variety of uses. Apart from being planted for decorative purposes, there are also a number of commercial applications of the plant. It is a source of timber, used for making a variety of wooden crafts. Moreover, the maple syrup that is extracted, especially from sugar maple, is used in a number of food products as a flavoring agent or sweetener.
Varieties of Maple Trees
Maple trees come in a wide range of species as mentioned above, and each species have a distinctive characteristic of its own. The leaves of each variety of maple tree are different from each other, especially in the number of lobes or in the overall size, and thus are markers of that specific variety. Here’s a quick look at some of the most popular varieties of maple trees:
Species: Acer saccharum
Also called: Hard Maple, Rock Maple
Native to: Northeastern North America
Fall color(s): Bright yellow, orange, and fluorescent red-orange
- Sugar maples are a favorite among the landscapers of southeastern Canada and New England for their amazing fall colors.
- They are slow growers and can reach a height of 50 to 75 feet, with a spread of 30 to 45 feet.
- Their leaves are 3 to 5 inches wide, five-lobed with bright green color on the upper surface and a shade lighter, beneath.
- They bear a horseshoe shaped, double-winged fruit that matures in fall.
- They prefer full to partial shade and a well drained soil. Excess water tends to rot their trunk, while less water dries out their leaves.
- Sugar maple is a primary source of maple syrup.
Species: Acer rubrum
Also called: Swamp Maple, Soft Maple or Water Maple
Native to: Eastern North America
Fall color(s): Green yellow, red, and burgundy
- Red maple is the first one to indicate fall’s approach with its cluster of flowers, and a change in the color of the leaves.
- It grows in a pyramidal shape, attaining a rounded crown shape upon reaching maturity.
- It has triangular leaves that are about 2 to 5 inches wide, and have 3 to 5 lobes. The red maple leaves are a bit smaller than the other maple species.
- The mature leaves appear whitish on the underside. The fruit it bears is V-shaped and double-winged.
- They are moderate growers that grow well in full sun as well as in partial shade.
- They are not very fussy about the type of soil they grow in: sandy loam to clay, suits them just fine.
- Red maple wood is a soft wood, and is used predominantly for making furniture.
Species: Acer saccharinum
Also called: Creek Maple, Silverleaf Maple
Native to: Eastern United States and Canada
Fall color(s): Pale yellow, orange, and light brown
- A silver maple grows rapidly until it reaches maturity. Mature trees can gain height in excess of 100 feet.
- It is known as ‘Silver’ mainly because of its 3 to 6 inches wide, five lobed leaves that have a silvery underside, and it is the only maple to have a shade of brown as its fall color.
- In early spring, the tree bears small flowers with colors that range from greenish yellow to red.
- The fruit is V-shaped and double-winged, with widely divergent wings and two seeds. In most cases, the fruit often falls off.
- Silver maple thrives well in full to partial sun and in any type of soil.
- The sap of the silver maple is used by the Native Americans as a source of medicine, and to make bread. The wood is often used to make furniture and baskets.
Species: Acer macrophyllum
Also called: Broadleaf Maple, Oregon Maple
Native to: Western North America
Fall color(s): Yellow, yellowish orange, and dark purple
- Bigleaf maple is a perennial tree.
- It is known as ‘Bigleaf’ mainly because of its large leaves that range anywhere between 12 to 24 inches.
- It grows actively in spring and summer seasons.
- In the middle of the spring season, the tree is at its peak bloom time, with fruits and seeds growing all over it until fall, when the leaves turn yellow and magenta.
- Although it can grow in a wide range of climatic conditions, it needs a soil that can retain plenty of water.
- It is primarily grown for shade and maple syrup that is extracted from its sap.
Species: Acer grandidentatum
Also called: Bigtooth Maple, Lost Maple, Sabinal Maple
Native to: Western United States and northern Mexico
Fall color(s): Golden yellow and red
- Canyon maple is a medium-sized, slow-growing tree that can reach a height of 30 to 40 feet.
- The tree ranges in its stemming quality – it could be shrubby, multi-stemmed tree or a single-stemmed tree.
- It can also grow in rocky landscapes.
- The plant flowers in mid-spring. The fruit is yellow in color, U-shaped and double-winged.
- Canyon maple is used widely in landscape designs as its fall colors are bright and vivid, and grows well in most soils, alongside being drought tolerant.
Species: Acer circinatum
Also called: Oregon Vine Maple
Native to: Western North America
Fall color(s): Bright yellow and Orange-red
- Vine maple is a small tree, more like a shrub, that attains a height of only about 20 feet.
- When this maple is not pruned, it sprouts crooked branches that trail downwards, giving it a very vine-like appearance, hence the name.
- During the fall season, the foliage turns a spectacular red and orange that graces the arched branches.
- They do well in partial or full shade and prefer moist soil.
- Vine maples cannot tolerate drought-like conditions as well as temperatures below 13 °F.
- Vine maple is occasionally planted as an ornamental tree.
Species: Acer palmatum
Also called: Smooth Japanese Maple
Native to: Japan, China, North and South Korea, southeast Russia, and eastern Mongolia
Fall color(s): Yellow, bronze, purple, and red
- Japanese maple trees are slow-growing, and require slight shade and moist soil.
- It grows to a height of about 20 to 33 feet, and bears multiple trunks that join together, just near the ground level.
- Three subspecies of Acer palmatumhave been identified till date. These are Acer palmatum palmatum, Acer palmatum amoenum, and Acer palmatum matsumurae.
- There are more than 1,000 cultivars of this species, which are grown all across the world.
- Different cultivars of Japanese maple thrive in different growing conditions. While some species can tolerate sun, the other may grow well in shade. However, they prefer well-drained soil, and most of them adapt well to the other companion plants that grow in their vicinity.
- The roots of the Japanese maple are compact and non-invasive. Hence, they seem to be more suitable for borders and ornamental paths.
Species: Acer campestre
Also called: Field Maple, Common Maple
Native to: Scotland, Poland, Denmark, Belarus, Turkey, North America, northern Africa, and Australia
Fall color(s): Yellow
- The hedge maple grows about 50 to 80 feet high, and its leaves are about 5 to 10 cm broad.
- The plant bears five-pointed leaves with a smooth margin.
- The leaves of the plant open in spring, and the flowers are also produced at the same time.
- Two distinct subspecies of hedge maple have been identified. These include Acer campestre campestre, which bears a downy fruit and Acer campestre leiocarpum, which bears a hairless fruit.
- In eastern Asia, the hedge maple is replaced by its close relative Miyabe Maple (Acer miyabei), which is native to Japan.
- Hedge maple is grown in gardens and parks for its aesthetic beauty. Its wood is hard and sturdy, and is used for making furniture, flooring, and musical instruments.
Species: Acer pseudoplatanus
Also called: Great Maple, Scottish Maple, Celtic Maple, False plane-tree, and Mock-plane
Native to: Central Europe and Southwest Asia
Fall color(s): Green and brownish yellow
- This is a large tree that towers to the height of about 65 to 115 feet, when it matures.
- The bark of a young tree is smooth and gray. However, as it matures, the bark goes on becoming more and more rough and scaly.
- The leaves are large and broad, and bear a leather-like texture.
- The flowers are yellow-green in color and are produced during the spring season. The seeds are paired in samaras and reach their maturity in the autumn season.
- The sycamore maple tree produces suckers from its roots, after the parent tree falls off and the roots are exposed to the sun.
- The tree can tolerate wind, salt spray, and urban pollution. Hence, it is popularly planted in urban as well as coastal areas.
- In many regions, sycamore maple is extensively planted for timber. It produces a whitish wood having a silky luster, which is used for making furniture, flooring, and parquetry.
Species: Acer platanoides
Native to: Eastern and Central Europe and Southwest Asia
Fall color(s): Dull yellow and orange-red
- This maple tree grows about 65 to 90 feet tall, and bears a gray-brown bark.
- The tree flowers in early spring. The flowers are yellow or yellow-green in color with five petals, and are arranged in corymbs of 15 to 30 flowers bunched together.
- In comparison to the other maples, the Norway maple is not a very long-lived tree. It survives for a maximum of about 250 years.
- In North America, Norway maple is an invasive species. The tree releases a certain chemical that discourages undergrowth. Also, its roots grow so close to the surface of the ground that they tend to absorb all the moisture present in the soil. This further obstructs the growth of other vegetation in the vicinity.
- The tree can grow well in polluted areas, and is tolerant to poor and compacted soils.
- Norway maple tree produces a wood that is hard and so, it is used to make furniture and turnery.
Species: Acer ginnala
Also called: Siberian Maple
Native to: Northeastern Asia
Fall color(s): Yellow, orange, and scarlet red
- This shrub grows about 10 to 30 feet tall and bears slender branches. Amur maple is one of the smaller trees in the Acer family.
- The flowers are yellow-green in color and bloom in the spring season, at the same time when the leaves open.
- The tree bears a winged fruit that is reddish in color. It matures in late summer or in early autumn.
- While in some regions, Amur maple can prove to be an invasive species, in some others, it shows some amount of drought resistance.
- Amur maple is primarily an ornamental plant. In North America and Europe, it is planted for decorative purposes. In japan, it is considered to be suitable for bonsai.
Some Other Varieties
Florida Maple (Acer floridanum)
- Native to North America, the Florida maple is also referred to as Southern Sugar Maple or Hammock Maple.
- It can attain a height of 50 to 60 feet when it matures.
- Its fall colors include muted yellow or orange.
- The leaves of a Florida maple are small and compact, and can easily be distinguished from other maple trees as their edges turn slightly downwards.
- Depending upon the climatic and soil conditions, Florida maple can alternate its growth from moderate to rapid.
- It requires full sun, and a moist, well-drained soil. Compact soil hampers its growth.
Chalk Maple (Acer leucoderme)
- Chalk maple, also known as Whitebark maple, is a smaller version of the Sugar maple and is often confused to be the latter’s subspecies. It is found in parts of southeastern United States.
- It is called Chalk maple because its bark turns smooth, chalky white when the tree matures.
- It is a slow-growing tree, and requires full sun and moist, well-drained soil.
- It is widely used to create pathways because it is drought tolerant and small in height – about 25 to 30 feet tall and about 25 feet wide.
- It is easy to grow, with spectacular fall colors that range from yellow-orange to deep red.
Black Maple (Acer nigrum)
- The Black maple is also known as Hard maple, Rock maple, and Black Sugar Maple, and is very similar to the Sugar maple in most of its growth stages, habitat, and soil needs.
- It is native to parts of Midwestern and Eastern United States, and southeast Canada.
- The bark of a matured Black maple is dark gray or blackish as compared to the other maples.
- It has a dense foliage. The leaves are mostly three-lobed with small notches, and hairy underneath with a droopy appearance.
- Its fall colors are mostly shades of yellow.
- The average height of a black maple ranges between 30 to 40 feet.
Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum)
- This is also called Moosewood Maple or Moose Maple, and is native to eastern North America.
- The leaves of striped maple are orbicular, 5 to 8 inches long and three-lobed.
- It is known as ‘Striped maple’ because of the prominent white vertical stripes on its bark that turn reddish brown upon maturity. The stripes distinguish the tree from the other maples.
- It is a small tree that grows only up to 30 feet in height.
- It grows best in shady and cool areas, and requires well-drained sandy loams.
Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum)
- Paperbark maple is native to central China. Its smooth bark peels into thin papery layers upon maturity, hence the name.
- This maple thrives in sun to partial shade and prefers moist, well-drained soil.
- The tree cannot tolerate drought conditions.
- The leaves are trifoliated with bright red and orange fall colors. The Paperbark is one of the last maples to develop a fall color.
Coliseum Maple (Acer cappadocicum)
- Also known as Cappadocian Maple, this maple tree is native to Asia.
- It has three subspecies viz., Acer cappadocicum cappadocicum that grows in Turkey Caucasus, and northern Iran; Acer cappadocicum indicumthat grows in the Himalayas; and Acer cappadocicum sinicum that grows in southwestern China.
- The Coliseum maple grows about 20 to 30 feet tall, and has normal water and soil requirements for its growth.
- It is a fast-growing maple that turns golden yellow in the fall season.
- Its flowers are dull in color and bloom mid-spring.
Fullmoon Maple (Acer japonicum)
- Fullmoon maple, also known as Downy Japanese Maple, is native to Japan and South Korea.
- Fullmoon maple grows at a moderate to slow pace and attains a height of around 30 feet.
- It is a multi-branching tree which turns maroon-red in fall, and bears white and maroon flowers on long stalks in the month of April.
- There are numerous cultivars of Acer japonicum, which are cultivated as ornamental plants in Europe and North America.
A maple tree is indeed a sight to behold in the fall season. Most varieties of maple can be purchased for planting from reputed plant nurseries, where one can also get information about their care, requirements, and the common diseases they are susceptible to.