MANY MICHIGAN MAPLES
Article #70, April, 2003
By Bill Cook
Maples are probably best known for their magnificent colors in the fall. Landscapes become awash in scarlet and gold. Perhaps more than any other group of trees, the maples characterize our forest. The Upper Peninsula boasts of seven species.
All our maples fall into the genus “Acer” and belong to the plant family “Aceraceae”. Worldwide, the Aceraceae has only two genera and about 117 species of trees and shrubs.
Sugar maple is the most common tree species in Michigan, even more so in the U.P. High quality trees and logs claim the highest dollar values. Sugar maple is quite tolerant of shady conditions, which is the main reason why the species continues to increase. As our forests grow older and tree size increases, the habitat requirements for sugar maple are favored. The leaves resemble the leaf on the Canadian flag and the fruits ripen and drop in the autumn, unlike our other maple trees.
Our second most common tree species in the U.P. is red maple. The tree does well on a wide variety of soil types and moisture conditions. Similar in shape to the sugar maple, the leaves have teeth along their edges. Red maple tends to flash more scarlet color, although tree nutrition and frosts have much to do with the seasonal color show. The wood does not have the same high quality as sugar maple.
Silver maple ranges most often along the rivers of the southern U.P. It is also a fairly common residential tree, but roots can wreak havoc on septic systems and drain fields. Leaf undersides have a silvery color, especially earlier in the season, thus the common name. Silver maple grows quickly and can reach large sizes. However, the wood is weak and subject to ice and wind damage.
Norway maple comes from Europe and has been widely planted in many of our communities. In some areas, it has become naturalized in our forest. It is a good residential tree, capable of resisting many of the harsh conditions typical in towns and villages.
The final full-sized maple tree is the boxelder, sort of the black sheep of the family. The tree has poor form and doesn’t grow very large. Boxelder quickly populates old fields and vacant lots. At times, it can become a pest species, but kids rapidly exploit the great tree-climbing characteristics. The leaves don’t look like maple leaves, but more like ash leaves.
The final two maples are shrubs or small trees, mountain maple and moosewood. They tend to prefer the humid areas along the shores of the great lakes. Both have maple-like leaves but can be confused with certain species of Viburnum. Fruits have the typical maple “helicopter” form, so if you see berries then it’s not a maple. Moosewood, or striped maple, has light green bark with distinctive white stripes.
Maples provide the backbone of our northern Michigan hardwood forests. Their loss would affect our economy and lifestyle in a major way. Several exotic insect and disease agents might cause sleepless nights for some, such as the Asian long-horned beetle and sudden oak death. However, for now we can count on maples providing many benefits.
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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at email@example.com or 906-786-1575.
by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005
J Road, Escanaba, MI 49829
906-786-1575 (voice), 906-786-9370 (fax), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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