Silver maple

Acer saccharinum
Family: Sapindaceae

Natural Historysilver maple leaf
Upper and lower surfaces of silver maple leaves
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

Silver maple is one of the most common tree species in the United States. It is known by a range of other common names, including creek maple, river maple, silverleaf maple, soft maple, water maple, and white maple. It is a close relative of red maple (Acer rubrum) and can hybridize with it. (The resulting hybrid is known as "Freeman maple.") Silver maple is tolerant of a wide range of climates, and as a result has been cultivated in many countries outside of its native range, including countries as far north as Norway and as far south as Brazil and Argentina.

Habitat & Range

Silver maple is mostly restricted to rich, moist bottomland soils bordering streams, swamps, and lakeshores, but is capable of development on dry upland sites as well, particularly as an ornamental.  It occurs from northeastern Canada west through Ontario, south to north Florida, and west through Arkansas and Oklahoma. It is a somewhat shade-tolerant species.

Wildlife Use

The seeds of silver maple are the largest of any native maple and are a food source for variety of birds and small mammals, including evening grosbeaks, finches, wild turkeys, ducks, squirrels and chipmunks. The large, rounded seeds are also eaten by squirrels during early spring when other food sources are sparse. Deer and rabbits browse on the foliage, and the bark is sometimes consumed by beavers. The tendency for silver maples to develop trunk cavities leads them to be a common shelter and breeding site for a variety of birds and mammals.

Human Use

Silver maple is widely used as an ornamental or shade tree due to its fast growth, fine foliage, and fall color. However, care should be used in selecting this tree because of the risk of damage to the very brittle branches during sleet and high winds.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Silver maple is a medium-sized tree, usually 60 to 80 feet in height, with a 2 to 3 foot diameter trunk, but is capable of reaching heights of 115 feet. Branches are divergent, forming a wide-spreading round crown. Roots are shallow and are frequently near the surface of the soil.
Leaves: Leaves are simple, opposite, and deciduous. They are palmate with 5 to 7 lobes and 6 to 8 inches long. The leaf margins are coarsely serrate. Leaves are pale green above and silvery-white below. Petioles are red or reddish-green and about 4 inches long.
Twigs: The twigs are brittle, slender, shiny, and reddish-brown. The pith is homogeneous.
Bark: The bark is silvery, thin and smooth, becoming broken into long, loose, scaly plates as the tree matures.
Flowers: This tree is dioecious, with greenish to reddish-colored flowers growing in dense clusters.
Fruit: The fruit of the silver maple is a wrinkled, reddish-brown double samara with divergent wings 1 to 3 inches long. They occur in clusters on slender stalks.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
There are two other maples on our list.
  • Florida maple has similarly-sized leaves, but the lobes are much wider and the underside of the leaf isn't silver.
  • Red maple has smaller, more narrow leaves, and the underside isn't silver.

 

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