What is a Silver Maple Tree?

Terrie Brockmann
Terrie Brockmann
Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

The silver maple tree is a popular tree that belongs to the Acer genus of the Aceraceae family. Its botanical name is Acer saccharinum, although some literature lists it as Acer dasycarpum. Home owners often plant it in their yards because it is a fast-growing shade tree, but its limbs tend to be brittle and subject to wind and ice damage. It derives its name from the silvery underside of its leaves.

Occasionally, this eastern North American native goes by the name of soft maple. It is a deciduous tree, meaning that it drops its foliage for the dormant season. It may grow to be a very large tree, sometimes topping 80 feet (about 25 m) tall and up to 50 feet (about 15 m) wide. When planting the tree, most home owners should position it so it will have room for future growth. The trunk may be less than 3 inches (about 8 cm) when it is a nursery plant, but often grows to be more than 3 feet (roughly 1 m) in diameter.

The leaves of the silver maple tree are quite attractive. They have five very deep lobes that are sharply toothed and may be from 4 to 8 inches (about 10 to 20 cm) long. As the name implies, the underside is white or silvery, and the top is often a light green. In the fall, they mostly turn yellow, often with tinges of red or orange.

Maple tree flowers are not showy. They bloom in small, erect corymbs, meaning that the flowers are clustered in broad, flat-topped arrangements at the end of a flower stalk. The flowers are yellow green and appear before the leaves in the early spring. The flowers mature into winged seeds — children often like to play with these so-called helicopters because they twirl as they fall to the ground.

The silver maple tree bark usually is smooth and silvery gray when the tree is a young plant. As the tree matures, the bark darkens to a darker gray. The bark usually develops a rough texture as it ages, often with pieces that are loose at their ends. This shaggy effect is not as pronounced as the shagbark hickory, but still gives the trunk an interesting texture.

Gardeners have many choices when purchasing silver maple trees. Silver queen usually produces fewer seeds, which often prevents many unwanted seedlings from growing in a lawn or garden. Crosses between the sugar maple and the silver maple trees include autumn blaze, autumn fantasy, and celebration, among others. All of these generally have redder autumn leaves, more like the sugar maple. Marmo, another cross, has distinctive foliage that turns red with green splotches in the fall.

Typically, silver maples prefer to grow in areas that the United States Department of Agriculture hardiness chart lists as zones four through nine. The low temperatures in zone four may be as low as -30°F (about -34°C). Often they may do well in moist soils.

Gardeners may propagate these trees from seeds, although usually they purchase nursery stock. If a silver maple tree needs pruning, tree owners should do so in late autumn or winter. During the warmer months, pruning often causes the tree to bleed sap. People may tap a silver maple tree in the spring to make maple syrup and sugar. The sap is not as sweet as the sugar maple, but it still makes good syrup.

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