Maple Field Guide
Silver Maple, Acer saccharinum L.

Silver maple is a common, large, bottomland tree in the eastern US and Canada. The common name refers to the silvery color of the underside of the leaves. Other common names for the species include soft maple, silverleaf maple, white maple, river maple, swamp maple and water maple. Silver maple has been widely planted in urban areas, but is susceptible to breakage by snow and ice. Silver maple wood is fairly hard and easily worked. It is often cut and sold with red maple as "soft maple" lumber.

· USDA Plant Guide for Silver Maple: PDF File

· Species Description: Silvics of North American Hardwoods

· Virginia Tech Dendrology Fact Sheet for Silver Maple

· University of Connecticut Plant Database

Silver maple can reach a height of over 100 feet, and typically has a short, thick trunk and spreading, open crown. Long curving branches have drooping twigs, which turn upward at the ends. The bark of young trees is light gray and thin, but becomes furrowed into long scaly ridges, which are often pulled away from the trunk on larger trees.

Leaves are arranged oppositely along the twigs, and five-lobed, with long, sharply pointed lobes. Leaf sinuses are V-shaped and deep with three main veins extending from the leaf base. The leaf margins are double toothed. Leaves are pale green above, and silvery white beneath. Leaves turn pale yellow or soft gold in the fall.

Silver maple flowers very early in the spring, normally before red maple, and before leaves open (March & April). Flowers are greenish or yellow, 6 mm long, and emerge from red buds. Fruits are winged samaras, in pairs, which are widely spread. They are light brown with pink veins, and mature about three weeks after pollination.

Silver maple is found throughout the eastern US and adjacent Canada, except along the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains. Its natural range extends from Maine and New Brunswick in the east, through southern Quebec and Ontario, west to Minnesota and parts of South Dakota. The range extends south through Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma to Louisiana.
Silver maple has also been planted in the western US and has been introduced to areas along the Black Sea in the former Soviet Union and parts of Europe.

Silver maple is commonly found on stream banks, flood plains and lake edges. It grows best on moist, well drained, bottomland soils, but can survive periodic flooding. On poor sites it needs full sunlight to establish itself, but on better sites can stand some shade. The tree also grows very well under a variety of conditions when planted as an ornamental.

The wood of silver maple is relatively hard, even textured and easily worked. It is used for pulp, as well as lumber, and is general used for many of the same products as red maple. It is often mixed with red maple lumber and sold as "soft maple". The lumber is used in products such as furniture, cabinets, flooring, pallets and a number of other applications. Silver maple sap can be used to produce maple syrup, but is not often tapped by commercial sugarmakers. This is due to the low sugar content of the sap and tendency for the trees to flower very early in the spring.1
Silver maple has also been planted extensively as an urban tree. In spite of its ability to be successful on poor sites, it has a number of drawbacks including its large size when mature, its tendency to easy breakage, and its shallow root system which can damage pavement and clog septic lines.

1. Maple flowering is a sign that the tree's metabolism is changing, swelling flower & leaf buds indicate that the flavor of the syrup is changing and the sap collection season has ended.

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

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