Maple Field Guide
Boxelder, Acer negundo L.

Boxelder is the most widely distributed of all American maples, and is sometimes also know as ash-leaf maple, California boxelder, western boxelder and Manitoba maple. It is one of the most common bottom land species throughout it's range, and has become widely established in urban areas because of its ability to produce large amounts of seed, sprout easily and tolerate poor soil conditions. The tree was once used as an ornamental, but planting boxelder is now uncommon because of its susceptibility to disease and breakage, and its short life-span. The wood of boxelder is light, soft and weak and not commonly used for commercial lumber production.

· USDA Plant Guide for Red Maple: PDF File

· Species Description: Silvics of North American Hardwoods

· Virginia Tech Dendrology Fact Sheet for Boxelder
· University on Connecticut Plant Database

Boxelder has a broad, rounded crown, and commonly grows to heights of over 60 feet. The bark is light gray-brown in color, with shallow fissures, and resembles the bark of white ash.
Leaves are arranged oppositely along the twigs, and are pinnately compound with 3 to 5 (or more) leaflets. Leaves are 5 to 8 inches long with leaflets of 2 to 4 inches long and 1 to 2 inches wide. The leaflets are long pointed with course teeth and often shallow lobes.

Boxelder bark.

Photo of Boxelder leaves.Photo of Boxelder fruit. Boxelder flowers are yellow-green and about 5 mm long. Fruits are winged samaras which occur in pairs and are clustered on long stalks. Flowering occurs with or just before leaf-out, and seeds are produced in late summer to early fall.

Image of Boxelder distribution map.

Boxelder has the widest distribution of any American maple. It is found from the east coast of the US to California, and from Alberta to southern Mexico and Guatemala. The tree has also become naturalized outside its range, including Europe.

Boxelder is generally a bottomland tree, commonly found growing on heavy, wet soils and along rivers where it can survive periodic flooding. The tree is also common on disturbed sites and in urban areas because of its ability to seed heavily, germinate easily, and tolerate heavy soils and low oxygen conditions.

The wood of boxelder is light, weak and soft. Because of this and the tree's poor form, it is rarely used for commercial lumber production. The trees are sometimes used for pulp or biomass fuel. Literature states that the sap is high in sugar and can be used to make a syrup, but it is not typically used for this purpose in New England.
The trees are fast growing and have been planted as street trees, but their weak branches and short life make boxelders a poor choice as an ornamental. Boxelder's fibrous root system and prolific seeding make it valuable for erosion control, and it has been planted in windbreaks and shelterbelts in the Great Plains to help control wind erosion.

USDA, NRCS. 2001. Plant Guide; Boxelder. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Boxelder tree.Boxelder leaves.

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