What Tree? Silver Maple

What Tree? Silver Maple

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)

This tree originates from central United States and south-eastern Canada and was introduced to the UK in 1725. The name derives from the latin for ‘maple’ while saccharinum combines the Greek work sakkharon meaning ‘sugar’ and the Latin suffix ‘inum’ for ‘of sugar’. However, unlike other maple species the low sugar content means that the tree is not used for harvesting sap to make syrup. Instead, its most common use is timber for furniture making due to its light colour and easy workability.

In its native habitat this species is often found growing in close proximity to rivers and marshes, whereas in the UK its rapid growth and distinctive form has resulted in it generally being planted within streets or urban parks.

While the tree is often considered suitable for planting in streets, due to a propensity to shed limbs with little visual indication, it is more suitable to less populated areas. This structural characteristic also means that the tree is more susceptible to wind forces and therefore is better suited to sheltered environments.

Appearance and Identification

This is a fast-growing broadleaf species that can grow to a maximum height of over 30m, although more commonly to a height of 20m with a broad spreading canopy and slightly hanging branches.  The tree is often multi-stemmed from either ground level, or anywhere up to 3m high, depending on the nursery stock.

Tree Frontiers - What Tree - Silver Maple Tree


The leaves are palmate lobed (i.e. like that of a hand) and consist of 5 deeply incised lobes. They are usually between 10-14cm long and 6-10cm wide.  Leaves are bright green with a deep red stalk, and as the namesake suggests, they have a distinctive silvery-white underside. In autumn the leaves turn an ochre yellow to deep red and provide striking colour.

The fruit are samaras (winged) in pairs and unlike most other maples, fruits are produced in spring, rather than autumn. Another distinguishing factor is that male flowers are yellow-green and female flowers are usually red, with both forming in clusters in early spring.

In winter the key aspects are the bark and buds. The tree has smooth grey bark that becomes more fissured in maturity and buds are like that of other maple species with one terminal bud and smaller buds either side.

Leaves from the Silver Maple Tree


Propagation and Control

The tree has few known pests or diseases in the UK, however it can be damaged by squirrels in its adolescent stage. The tree is a relatively hardy species tolerating a range of climatic environments. It is also tolerant of most soil conditions, although thrives in moist conditions, and has a shallow rooting habit. This species is also relatively tolerant of most pollutants, which makes it ideal for urban planting.

Source and Reference Materials

Information detailed in this post has been obtained from the author’s own knowledge and photographic library where possible. Additional source of information and photographs include:

More, D & White, J. (2013). Illustrated trees of Britain and Europe. Domino.

Van den Berk, B.V. (2004). Van den Berk on Trees. Van den Berk Nurseries