Silver Maple - 100 Most Common North American Trees

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Introduction to Silver Maple

silver maple leaves
(Derek Ramsey/ Commons/GFDL 1.2)

Silver maple is one of America's favorite shade trees and planted all over the eastern United States. Surprisingly, it is also a ragged tree when 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.
Acer saccharinum is a medium-sized tree of short bole and quickly branching crown. It is naturally found on stream banks, flood plains, 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.

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Description and Identification of Silver Maple

seeds and buds of silver maple tree
Helicopters and leaves forming on a soft maple in Wisconsin in April. (Jeff the quiet/Wikimedia Commons/CC0)

Common Names: soft maple, river maple, silverleaf maple, swamp maple, water maple, and white maple
Habitat: Silver maple is found on stream banks, flood plains, and lake edges where it grows best on better-drained, moist alluvial soils.
Description: Silver maple growth is rapid in both pure and mixed stands and the tree may live 130 years or more.
Uses: Silver maple is cut and sold with red maple (A. rubrum) as soft maple lumber. It is also used as a shade tree for landscapes.

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The Natural Range of Silver Maple

Distribution map for silver maple trees
Natural distribution map for Acer saccharinum. (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 of Silver Maple

tree bark
Silver maple bark. (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."
- From Fact Sheet on Silver Maple - USDA Forest Service

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Insects and Diseases of Silver Maple

silver maple tree flowers
Silver maple flowers. (Sten/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Pest information courtesy of USFS Fact Sheets:

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.
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 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.