Boxelder, a Common Tree in North America

Acer negundo - One of the Most Common North American Trees

Boxelder (Acer negundo) is one of the most widespread and best known of the maples. Boxelder's wide range shows that it grows under a variety of climatic conditions. Its northward limits are in the extremely cold areas of the United States and Canada, and planted specimens have been reported as far north as Fort Simpson in the Canadian Northwest Territories.

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boxelder tree leaves
(Jean-Pol GRANDMONT/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0)
Because of its drought and cold resistance, boxelder has been widely planted in the Great Plains and at lower elevations in the West as a street tree and in windbreaks. Although the species is not an ideal ornamental, being "trashy," poorly formed, and short-lived, numerous ornamental cultivars of boxelder are propagated in Europe. Its fibrous root system and prolific seeding habit have led to its use in erosion control in some parts of the world.

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boxelder tree
boxelder fruit. (Luis Fernández García/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.5 ES) provides several images of parts of boxelder. The tree is a hardwood and the lineal taxonomy is Magnoliopsida > Sapindales > Aceraceae > Acer negundo L. Boxelder is also commonly called ashleaf maple, boxelder maple, Manitoba maple, California boxelder, and western boxelder.

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The Range of Boxelder

distribution map of boxelder tree
Distribution of boxelder in North America. (U.S. Geological Survey/Wikimedia Commons)
Boxelder is the most widely distributed of all the North American maples, ranging from coast to coast and from Canada to Guatemala. In the United States, it is found from New York to central Florida; west to southern Texas; and northwest through the Plains region to eastern Alberta, central Saskatchewan and Manitoba; and east in southern Ontario. Further west, it is found along watercourses in the middle and southern Rocky Mountains and the Colorado Plateau. In California, boxelder grows in the Central Valley along the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, in the interior valleys of the Coast Range, and on the western slopes of the San Bernardino Mountains. In Mexico and Guatemala, a variety is found in the mountains.

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boxelder tree
Tree, cultivated, Waux-Hall park of Mons (Belgium). (Jean-Pol GRANDMONT/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0)

Leaf: Opposite, pinnately compound, 3 to 5 leaflets (sometimes 7), 2 to 4 inches long, margin coarsely serrate or somewhat lobed, shape variable but leaflets often resemble a classic maple leaf, light green above and paler below.

Twig: Green to purplish green, moderately stout, leaf scars narrow, meeting in raised points, often covered with a glaucous bloom; buds white and hairy, lateral buds appressed.

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(Daria Devyatkina/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Boxelder most likely reestablishes following fire via wind-dispersed seeds but is often injured by fire. It may also sprout from the roots, the root collar, or stump if girdled or top-killed by fire.