Norway Maple

June 19, 2010 at 2:52 am Leave a comment

There may be an imposter living in your backyard.

Full disclaimer: I grew up in Canada, and I’ve always been a sucker for the Sugar Maple tree. Its leaf is found on our flag and everything else that is patriotic. But people in the US Northeast also love this tree because it provides the sap for maple syrup. (This sweet quality is reflected in its Latin name, Acer saccharum.)

So I was surprised to learn that many of the “Sugar Maples” lining Canadian and American streets aren’t Sugar Maples at all. They’re members of a look-alike species from Europe called the Norway Maple, Acer platanoides.

The Norway Maple was brought to North America in the mid-1700s. It was a popular garden tree; even George Washington was thrilled to score himself a couple of Norway Maples for his yard. In urban areas, it proved to be the ultimate secret replacement for the beloved Sugar Maple because it was much more tolerant of pollution, road salt and denuded soil.

Unfortunately, the success of the Norway Maple came at a price. It spread into natural areas and displaced native plants (including the Sugar Maple). Its leaves were just a smidgen bigger, and its foliage just a touch thicker, and native seedlings couldn’t grow in its thick shade.

Nowadays it’s considered a dangerous invasive species. Some states have even banned people from planting them.

How can you tell that Norway Maple from the Sugar Maple? There are several subtle clues, but my favorite way to distinguish them is to pick a leaf and snap the stem. Only Norway Maple will exude a milky white sap. Of course, you could always just compare its leaf to the one on a handy bottle of ice cold Molson Canadian beer. Cheers!


Entry filed under: Trees.

Bladder Campion Lady’s Thumb

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