The 5 Most Common North American Maple Trees

Common Trees in the Maple Family - Aceraceae

Sugar Maple. University of Georgia

Acer sp. is a genus of trees or shrubs commonly known as Maple. Maples are classified in a family of their own, the Aceraceae. There are approximately 125 species worldwide. The word Acer is derived from a Latin word meaning "sharp" and referring to the characteristic points on the leaf lobes. The maple tree is the national arboreal emblem of Canada. 

There are actually twelve native maples in North America but only five are commonly seen.

The other seven occur regionally and are black maple, mountain maple, striped maple, bigleaf maple, chalk maple, canyon maple, Rocky Mountain maple, vine maple and Florida maple.

Your chances of seeing a native maple are good in both the urban landscape and in the forest. With few exceptions (Norway and Japanese maples are exotics) you will find these native maples and their cultivars in profusion.

The Common North American Maple Species

  • sugar maple or Acer saccharum -  The star of eastern North American fall foliage viewing and principle source of maple syrup.
  • red maple or Acer rubrum - The most widespread maple in eastern North America and ubiquitous in both the urban and forest landscape.
  • silver maple or Acer saccharinum - A fast growing maple used largely as a shade tree, but with problems. The maple is brittle and subject to breakage. The roots shallow and can cause property damage.
  • boxelder or Acer negundo - The most common maple sp. in mid-western North America, and the only maple with pinnately compound leaves. Boxelder has the largest range of all North American maples.
  • bigleaf or Acer macrophyllum - Restricted to the Pacific Coast, this tree is the most massive of North American maples.


General Identification Tips

The deciduous leaves on all maples are arranged on stems opposite each other. The leaves are simple or compound in the case of boxelder, are palmately lobed with three or five main veins radiating from the leafstalk base.

The leafstalks are long and often as long a the leaf itself.

Maple sp. has small flowers that are not very showy and form in droopy clusters. The fruit are winged key seeds (called double samaras) and develop early in the spring. Very visible are the red buds and new red stems on red maple.

Maples have bark that is generally gray but variable in form. Good identifiers of maples in dormancy are crescent shaped leaf scar with three bundle scars; has a terminal bud that is egg-shaped and slightly larger than lateral buds; has stipule scars absent; has opposite leaf and twigs.

The Other Hardwoods:

ash | beech | basswood | birch | black cherry | black walnut/butternut | cottonwood | elm | hackberry | hickory | holly | locust | magnolia | maple | oak | poplar | red alder | royal paulownia | sassafras | sweetgum | sycamore | tupelo | willow | yellow-poplar

ID Glossary