There are many types of maple trees, each with its own characteristics. Learn more about the many types of maple trees and discover which ones might suit your landscape.
Many Types of Maple Trees
Maple trees belong to the genus Acer, and there are 125 species of maple trees. They grace the landscape throughout the world. Most are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves each fall, but a few native to the warm climates of southern Asia do not shed their leaves. Maples hail mostly from Asia, but some species are native to North America, Europe, and North Africa.
You can easily recognize a maple tree by the leaves. The leaves of all maples have five points. The leaf shape itself may be slender, almost lacy, like the Japanese maple, or wide in the middle like the Norway maple, but the leaves always have five points or finger-like projections. Most maple trees have green leaves, but some may have red or ruby-bronze colored leaves.
With 125 species of maple, it would be nearly impossible to list them all. The types of maples gardeners are most likely to encounter in the average home and garden center include:
- Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)
- Norway maple (Acer platonoides)
- Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
- Paperbark maple (Acer griseum)
- Red maple (Acer rubrum)
- Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)
One of the types of maple trees most familiar to the home gardener is the Japanese maple. Japanese maples offer an almost infinite variety of forms. They can be trained into various shapes, left to grow on their own, or any combination in between. A typical Japanese maple can grow to be 25 feet tall. They prefer rich, well-drained soil and partially shady locations. If drought is a problem during summers in your area, be sure to water a Japanese maple well.
The majestic Norway maple is what many people know as a maple tree because they are so frequently planted along city streets, as shade trees in front of homes, and in parks nationwide. That's because Norway maples are tough as nails and can withstand all the indignities of being planted next to a road; extreme heat and cold, droughts, car exhaust fumes, and road salt near their roots. Plant Norway maples in gardening zones 3 to 7 in full sun partially shady areas. They can grow up to 50 feet tall and they do spread out, so leave plenty of room between the Norway maple and nearby structures. Their roots stay close to the surface, so plant them away from sidewalks or you may find cracks developing in the cement. They're very drought tolerant, but mulch near the roots to keep them moist.
Like the Norway maple, the sugar maple is the typical maple tree in many people's minds. This is the maple known for its glorious fall colors. The leaves turn spectacular shades from bright gold to rich red. This is also one of the tallest maples, growing up to 120 feet tall. Plant sugar maples in zones 3 to 8, from full to partial shade, and with plenty of room for them to grow up and spread out.
Among all the types of maple trees, the paperbark maple may be the least well known. That's a shame, because this hardy, useful tree is usually very healthy and untroubled by disease or insects. The bark is especially lovely and a rich coppery brownish red color that is quite stunning, especially in the winter when the leaves have fallen. It really adds nice color to the landscape. Paperbark maples grow up to 30 feet tall and can be grown in almost any soil conditions in gardening zones 4 to 8.
The red maple has some of the most interesting foliage of all the maple trees. In the summertime, its leaves are green on top with an interesting silvery cast to them. In the fall, they turn gold, then deep red before dropping off. The red maple grows up to 60 feet tall and is drought tolerant, hardy and easily transplanted. It also makes a nice curbside tree and takes anything the local road crews throw at it without a fuss.
Silver maples have long, delicate leaves somewhat reminiscent of a willow, but with the characteristic five-points that mark the maple tree. This is a maple that needs moist, almost wet soil. It grows just fine in clay or loam, but it must retain moisture. Planting it near a creek, pond or wet area makes the silver maple very happy. They can grow up to 70 feet tall and have beautiful silvery-green leaves. Grow silver maples in zones 3 through 8.
Choosing a Maple Tree
After reading about the types of maple trees available, you might want to rush out and buy one right away. Before you do, consider the following carefully:
- Zone: Most maples grow fine in zones 3 to 8, but a few like the Norway maple, can only be grown as far south as zone 7. Choose your tree wisely.
- Soil pH: In general, maples are tolerant of a wide range of soil pH levels from a very acid 3.5 up to a neutral to alkaline 7 and over.
- Moisture: Most maples like the soil a bit moist but some, like the silver maple, demand it. If you live in a drought-prone area or you don't want to spend the time and effort to water your trees, talk to your local garden center to choose a maple for you.
- Space: For space-challenged gardeners, the Japanese maple is probably the best choice. It can be pruned to retain a smaller frame. Large trees must be set well away from homes so that falling branches do not damage roof lines.
Maple trees are some of the most beautiful trees nature provides. Choose one, and enjoy it for many years to come.