All About the Silver Maple Tree

Otherwise Known as Acer Saccharinum

Silver Maple Tree

asmithers/Getty Images 

The silver maple is one of America's favorite shade trees. It's planted all over the eastern United States. Surprisingly, it is also a ragged tree when it's mature and is not a spectacular looking maple in autumn. Because it is a fast grower, people tend to ignore the flaws and embrace its quick shade.

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Introduction

Acer Sassarinum With Seeds - Samara

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The silver maple is also known as Acer saccharinum, soft maple, river maple, silverleaf maple, swamp maple, water maple, and white maple. It's is a medium-sized tree of short bole and quickly branching crown. Its natural habitat is along stream banks, floodplains, and lake edges where it grows best on better-drained, moist alluvial soils. Growth is rapid in both pure and mixed stands, and the tree may live 130 years or more. The tree is useful in wet areas, transplants easily and can grow where few others can. It should be saved for planting in wet areas or where nothing else will thrive. Silver maple is cut and sold with red maple (A. rubrum) as soft maple lumber. It's also often used as a shade tree for landscapes.

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Natural Range

Natural Distribution Map for Acer Saccharinum
A distribution map for silver maple trees.

Elbert L. Little, Jr./USGS/Wikimedia Commons 

The natural range of silver maple extends from New Brunswick, central Maine, and southern Quebec, west in southeastern Ontario and northern Michigan to southwestern Ontario; south in Minnesota to southeastern South Dakota, eastern Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma; and east in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama to northwestern Florida and central Georgia. The species is absent at higher elevations in the Appalachians.

Silver maple has been introduced to areas of the Black Sea coast of the Soviet Union, where it has adapted to the growing conditions there and is reproducing naturally in small stands.

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The Silviculture and Management

Tree Bark
Bark of the silver maple.

Alberto Salguero/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

"Silver Maple will grow in areas which have standing water for several weeks at a time. It grows best on acid soil which remains moist, but adapts to very dry, alkaline soil. Leaves may scorch in areas with restricted soil space during dry spells in the summer but will tolerate drought if roots can grow unrestricted into a large soil volume.

Silver Maple can be a prolific seed producer giving rise to many volunteer trees. It often sends up sprouts from the trunk and branches producing an unkempt appearance. There are numerous insect and disease problems. There are too many other superior trees to warrant wide use of this species but it does have its place in tough sites away from buildings and people. It grows extremely fast so creates almost instant shade, making this a popular tree among homeowners throughout its hardiness range." (Fact Sheet on Silver Maple - USDA Forest Service)

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Insects and Diseases

Extreme Maple Bladder Gall
A leaf on a Silver Maple tree with Maple Bladder Gall which is caused by Eriophyid mites.

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Trees are an essential part of the food chain for some insects and tree pests. And, just like most living creatures on planet Earth, trees are prone to diseases.

Insects

  • Leaf stalk borer and petiole-borer are insects that bore into the leaf stalk just below the leaf blade. The leaf stalk shrivels, turns black, and the leaf blade falls off.
  • Gall mites stimulate the formation of growths or galls on the leaves. The galls are small but can be so numerous that individual leaves curl up. The most common gall is bladder gall mite found on silver maple. The crimson erineum mite is usually found on silver maple and causes the formation of red fuzzy patches on the lower leaf surfaces. The problem is not serious so control measures are not suggested.
  • Aphids infest maples, usually Norway Maple, and may be numerous at times. High populations can cause leaf drop.
  • Scales are an occasional problem on maples. Perhaps the most common is the cottony maple scale. The insect forms a cottony mass on the lower sides of branches.

Diseases

  • Anthracnose is more of a problem in rainy seasons. The disease resembles, and may be confused with, a physiological problem called scorch. The disease causes light brown or tan areas on the leaves.
  • Tar spot and a variety of leaf spots cause some concern among homeowners but are rarely serious enough for control.

Pest information courtesy of USFS Fact Sheets: