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Scientific name: Acer saccharinum
Common name: 
Silver Maple

Information in this Species Page was compiled in part by B. Kurtik in Biology 220W, Spring 2000, at Penn State New Kensington.

The silver maple like the red maple is also called a "swamp" or "soft" maple. These terms describe significant aspects of the ecology and the anatomical structure of this maple species. The shallow root system and strong tolerance to even many weeks of complete inundation by flood waters make this species well adapted to the wets soils along stream banks and in swampy lowlands. It does tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions but is not typically found in drier, more well drained natural sites. The weakness of the branch and trunk wood of the silver maple is a notorious feature of this species. Branches are extremely brittle and are subject to extensive wind, ice and snow breakage. The undisturbed forest floor beneath a silver maple is typically deeply covered with a layer of broken branch wood. These breaks in integrity of the tree's surface open entry pathways for wood destroying fungi and contribute significantly to the accelerated mortality of many individuals.

Leaves of the silver maple are four to seven inches in diameter with five, deeply serrated lobes. The leaves are pale green above and a distinctive silvery-white beneath. The trunk of a silver maple is short and typically splits very close to the ground into a system of vertical branches. The crown is a wide spreading and somewhat irregular matrix of long, curving side branches. Terminal twigs are green to brown and have an unpleasant, fetid odor when crushed.  The bark is silvery gray on young trees becoming broken up into shaggy ridges as the tree matures.

Flowers, Fruit and Seeds
Like the red maple, the silver maple flowers very early in the season (late winter or early spring). Flowers arise from reddish buds but are more greenish in color than those of the red maple. Samara from the pollinated flowers are large (one and a half to two inches long, the largest samara of any northeastern maple), broad winged, paired and green in color. Germination occurs immediately following release.

Use in Landscaping
The silver maple is not an abundant tree species in the forests of Western Pennsylvania. It is very commonly planted as an ornamental or as a shade tree around many homes in our area, though. Its handsome shape and rapid growth rate make it an attractive landscaping choice. Its extreme brittleness, though, makes it a "high maintenance" species and subjects it to a wide variety of diseases and infestations.

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This page was last updated on October 8, 2013  

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