Maple, a hardwood tree valued for shade, ornament, lumber, and sugar. The maple is distantly related to the buckeye and horse chestnut. Maples are native to Europe, central and eastern Asia, northern Africa, and North America. There are more than 100 species.

Maples are symmetrical trees with dense foliage. Several species grow 80 to 120 feet (24 to 36 m) tall, with a crown spread of 30 to 60 feet (9 to 18 m). The trunk is rather short, with black or gray bark that may be grooved or smooth. The simple, lobed leaves usually are toothed, and are attached to the stem in opposing pairs. (For pictures, In the fall, maple leaves turn bright red and yellow. The seed pods, called keys, grow in pairs, each part having a wing. The flowers, small and usually green or yellow, grow in clusters.

On windy days in spring and summer the maple keys whirl to the ground, to germinate the same year or the following year. Maples grow rapidly in almost any soil. Most maples live 100 years or longer.

Various animals obtain food from maples, including squirrels, which eat the keys; deer and rabbits, which eat the twigs; and porcupines, which eat the inner bark.

North American Maples

Of the dozen species of maples native to North America, the most widely distributed is the box elder, or ash-leaved maple. Most of the other species are native to southeastern Canada and the northern or mountainous parts of the eastern and central United States. These maples include:

Sugar Maple

The five-lobed leaves are rather deeply notched and are pale green on the underside. The bark is dark brown and vertically grooved. This species grows more slowly than other maples. It may reach 135 feet (40 m) and live 200 to 300 years.

Black Maple

The leaves are wavy-edged and less deeply notched than those of the sugar maple. The bark is nearly black.

Red Maple,

a medium-sized tree with smooth, light-gray bark that becomes rougher and darker with age. The twigs, buds, flowers, and keys are reddish. (For picture,

Silver Maple,

a tall tree with deeply lobed and toothed leaves that are whitish beneath. In older trees the gray bark flakes off in patches, leaving brown spots.

Species native to other parts of the United States include:

Bigleaf Maple,

150 to 300 feet (45 to 90 m) tall, with leaves 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) across. It is native to the Pacific coast from Alaska to California.

Species brought to the United States from Europe include:

Norway Maple,

with leaves that are somewhat wavy-edged and white beneath. Because it is hardy and fast-growing, this maple is a favorite ornamental. It can reach a height of 100 feet (30 m). In the spring, clusters of greenish-yellow flowers appear before the leaves unfold.

Sycamore Maple,

whose leaves look like those of the sugar maple but are more deeply toothed. The leafstalk, when broken, exudes a milky fluid.

Maples have local names that are sometimes a source of confusion. For example, sugar maple and black maple are called rock maple in certain parts of the country. Red maple is known in some localities as scarlet maple and in others as swamp maple.

Uses of Maple

The wood of the sugar and black maples is called hard maple. It is very hard, strong, and heavy. Close-grained and light in color, it takes a satiny polish. Hard maple with a wavy or figured grain is called curly maple or bird's-eye maple. Hard maple is used for furniture, veneers, flooring, shoe lasts, tool handles, and musical instruments. Soft maple is the lumberman's term for the wood of the red, silver, bigleaf, and certain other maples. This wood is softer and less useful than hard maple.

Maples are used as shade and ornamental trees. The most popular species are Norway, sycamore, sugar, silver, and red. The sap of sugar and black maples is the source of maple sugar.

The sugar maple is the state tree of New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. The maple leaf is Canada's national emblem and appears on its flag.

The box elder is Acer negundo; sugar maple, A. saccharum; black, A. nigrum; red, A. rubrum; silver, A. saccharinum; bigleaf, A. macrophyllum; Norway, A. platanoides; sycamore, A. pseudoplatanus. Maples make up the family Aceraceae.