Silver maple tree uses

Silver Maple Tree Care – Growing Silver Maple Trees In The Landscape

Common in older landscapes because of their quick growth, even the slightest breeze can make the silver undersides of silver maple trees look like the whole tree is shimmering. Because of its wide use as a fast-growing tree, most of us have a silver maple or a few on our urban blocks. In addition to their use as fast-growing shade trees, silver maples were also widely planted in reforestation projects. Continue reading to learn more silver maple tree information.

Silver Maple Tree Information

Silver maples (Acer saccharinum) prefer to grow in moist, slightly acidic soil. They are moderately drought tolerant, but are more recognized for their ability to survive in standing water for long periods of time. Because of this water tolerance, silver maples were often planted along river banks or edges of other waterways for erosion control. They can tolerate high water levels in spring and receding water levels in midsummer.

In natural areas, their early spring blooms are important to bees and other pollinators. Their prolific seeds are eaten by grosbeaks, finches, wild turkeys, ducks, squirrels

and chipmunks. Its leaves provide food for deer, rabbits, cecropia moth caterpillars and white tussock moth caterpillars.

Growing silver maple trees are prone to forming deep holes or cavities that provide homes for raccoons, opossums, squirrels, bats, owls and other birds. Near waterways, beavers often eat silver maple bark and use their limbs for building beaver dams and lodges.

How to Grow Silver Maple Trees

Hardy in zones 3-9, silver maple tree growth is about 2 feet or more per year. Their vase-shaped growth habit can top out at anywhere from 50 to 80 feet tall depending on location and can be 35 to 50 feet wide. While they were once widely used as quick growing street trees or shade trees for landscapes, silver maples are not so popular in recent years because their brittle limbs are prone to breakage from strong winds or heavy snow or ice.

Silver maple’s large vigorous roots can also damage sidewalks and driveways, as well as sewer and drain pipes. The soft wood that is prone to forming holes or cavities can also be prone to fungus or grubs.

Another drawback to silver maples is that their prolific, winged seed pairs are highly viable and seedlings will quickly sprout up in any open soil without any special requirements, like stratification. This can make them a pest to agriculture fields and quite annoying to home gardeners. On the positive side, this makes silver maples very easy to propagate by seed.

In recent years, red maples and silver maples have been bred together to create the hybrid Acer freemanii. These hybrids are fast growing like silver maples but more durable against strong winds and heavy snow or ice. They also have prettier fall colors, usually in reds and oranges, unlike the yellow fall color of silver maples.

If planting a silver maple tree is a project you’d like to undertake but without the downsides, then opt for one of these hybrid types instead. Varieties in the Acer freemanii include:

  • Autumn Blaze
  • Marmo
  • Armstrong
  • Celebration
  • Matador
  • Morgan
  • Scarlet Sentinel
  • Firefall

Environmental Studies

The silver maple, Acer saccharinum, is in the Aceraceae family. It gets its name from the silvery sparkle of the underside of the leaf when it blows in the wind. It likes to grow in moist places and makes for a good shade tree. Its wood is used for furniture and cabinets. It makes for great river bank stabilizers because it’s fast-growing and has soft wood. It’s native and is common in the eastern and midwestern United States from north to south.

Photo by Evan Ausich

Physical characteristics

Leaf: The leaves are opposite and palmately lobed. Each leaf has five lobes which are long and sharply pointed. The leaf sinuses are V-shaped. On the top of the leaf it is green, but when you look at the underside of the leaf it gives off a silvery white color.

Flower | Seeds: The silver maple flowers very early in the spring before the leaves open. The flowers start out as red buds, but then turn to a greenish yellowish color. They grow in clusters. The male and female flowers can grow separately on trees, but they can also grow on the same tree.

The fruits of the silver maple are called samaras. They grow in pairs. The paired wings are about 60–90 degrees apart. The seed is about 1.25”–2”long. The samaras are brown with pink veins.

Trunk | Bark: The diameter of a silver maple’s trunk can reach between 3–5 feet. The bark is smooth with a gray or silvery color, but as it becomes older it begins to be loose, scaly, and shaggy.

Life span: The Silver Maple can live to be 130–150 years old

ID features: The stems, when broken, produce a strong odor. The flower buds in clusters look like Christmas ornaments. The buds look similar to those of Acer rubrum, but are slightly larger. The tree has deeply cut foliage, silvery bark with orangish furrows, and “droop and swoop” branch tips.

Ecological characteristics

The silver maple is one of the 125 species of the Aceraceae family that ranges from the northern temperate regions to the south tropical mountains.

In North America there are 13 native species. The silver maple extends from Maine and New Brunswick in the east, through southern Quebec and Ontario, west to Minnesota and South Dakota. It also extends south through Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma to Louisiana.

The silver maple can be found in deciduous forests, wet soils of stream banks, flood plains, moist soil riverbanks, and swamps.


  • easily grown, transplanted and established so data is limited
  • tolerant of a wide range of soils (not high pH)
  • tolerant of drought as well as seasonal flooding
  • tolerant of urban conditions

Landscape Uses

  • shade tree
  • temporary tree where fast growth is needed
  • for difficult sites
  • parks
  • areas that receive seasonal flooding

Natural Range of Acer saccharinum

Importance to the ecosystem

Silver maple is a native, deciduous, medium-sized tree. The height ranges from 90 to 120 feet. It is typical of wet bottomlands, riverbanks, and lake edges. The silver maple grows best in moist well drained soil. Some other plants that often grow with silver maple include: red maple, American elm, American sycamore, black willow, sweetgum, elderberry, poison-ivy, and milkweed among others. The silver maple helps in hydraulic lift which redistributes soil water. It draws water from lower soil layers and emits the water into upper drier soil layers. This not only benefits the tree itself, but also many other plants growing around it.

Relationship with other species

Non-human: Wild turkey, bobwhite quail, finches, squirrels, eastern chipmunk, wood ducks eat the seeds of the silver maple. The white-tailed deer and the eastern cottontail eat the leaves and stems. Beavers eat and chew on the bark and squirrels eat the buds. Many different types of birds hang out (roost) in the silver maple tree. They include red-winged blackbirds, grackles, European starlings, and Bbown-headed cowbirds.

Humans: Humans use this soft wood to stabilize river banks. They also use the wood to build furniture, cabinets, veneer, pulp, boxes, and crates. It can be used in flooring, making paper, and can be used for firewood. Silver maple can be turned into timber which is sold with red maple as lumber. The sap from the silver maple can be used to make light syrup which contributes to the northeastern states’ large syrup industry. Silver maple syrup is not as sweet as sugar maple syrup.

The silver maple has such a high growth rate that humans are considering using it as a biofuel. With its rapid growth, form, and the ability to adapt to a variety of ranges humans have planted silver maple in urban areas like parks, roadsides, and gardens. Humans have taken advantage of how quickly it grows to good heights and it has become a popular shade tree.

Leaf Diseases:

Anthracnose leaf spot: Symptoms include light brown, purple, or black spots that vary in size and shape. Spots can develop anywhere on the leaf surface.

Phyllosticta leaf spot: tan or brown spots. Diseased centers can leave holes in leaf. After the holes appear the fungus can develop in the leaf spots.

Tar spot: Highly distinguished by raised black spots on the leaf surface. The spots resemble a puddle of tar.


Maple gall mate (Vasates quadripedes) are cousins of spiders and make galls on maple leaves. The galls are green then they turn red and finally they turn black. There can be up to one gall on the leaf or the entire leaf can be covered. The galls form when the adult feeds in the spring. The mites chew on the leaf and as the mite is doing that the tissue of the leaf grows out forming the gall. Once the newly borns are hatched the process repeats.

Maple petiole borer are small sawflies. As adults they lay eggs in the petioles (stems) of maple leaves. They feed within the petioles for 20–30 days. When they tunnel their way into the leaf petioles they disrupt the connective tissue, causing leaves to fall, often very suddenly.

Other interesting facts

  • The samaras are commonly known to children and adults alike as “helicopters”. They flutter and swirl in the wind and sometimes go up 50 feet into the air.
  • It was introduced to Europe in 1725 by Sir Charles Wagner.
  • Its twigs have an unpleasant odor when broken.



David More, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees, p. 657

Robert Mohlenbrock, Forest Trees of Illinois 3rd ed., p. 48

George A. Petrides, A Field Guide to Eastern Trees, p.70

A Photographic Guide to More than 500 Trees of North America and Europe by Roger Phillips pg. 46 and 75

Eyewitness Handbooks TREES by Allen J. Coombes pg 84 and 101

Handbook of the trees of the Northern States and Canada East of the Rocky Mountains by Romeyn Beck Hough pg. 332-333

Page drafted by Evan Ausich and Julia Giza

Plant of the Week: Silver Maple

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in “Plant of the Week.” Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.

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Silver Maple
Latin: Acer saccharinum

The most important decision we face when designing a landscape is our choice of trees. If we choose poorly, our planting will be plagued with this faulty choice for years to come and the grand scheme we see in our mind’s eye will never be realized.

Yet, we are mortal creatures prone to impatience. We want to see things grow and develop. Surely this impatience is what keeps people planting silver maples, a tree that – despite its many faults – is the twentieth most commonly planted shade tree in American gardens.

Silver maples (Acer saccharinum) are big, fast growing trees capable of reaching 80 feet in height with a spread almost equal their height. They are not orderly trees with symmetrical form; every bud seems to seek a leadership role in growth, resulting in trees that branch low to the ground and produce an abundance of long, wispy branches. These branches are often overly long for their diameter and overly brittle, making them prone to breakage during wind and ice storms.

The silver maple leaf is a long-petioled affair with the blade three to five inches long and wide. It is 5-lobed with each lobe dissected with varying degrees of jagged and deep serrations. During the summer the slightest puff of breeze causes leaves to flash their silver underbellies like a school of shiners in a shallow stream. Fall color is yellow but its fall display is frequently mediocre.

Female trees produce clusters of red flowers along the stem in late winter that are an early signal of the coming spring. The seeds mature in May and germinate immediately if given a moist location. An undocumented and unappreciated role the silver maple plays is in introducing our nation’s children to the joys of nature. Because it is so widely grown across the country, surely no other tree has entertained and delighted more children with it’s helicopter-like seeds on a bright May morning. Perhaps the next Thoreau or Carson will be awakened to the joys of nature by the whirl of the samaras as they spiral towards the ground.

Americans are always in a rush so not surprisingly there is a strong demand for fast growing trees to provide quick shade. For the past 30 years I’ve watched a shade tree planting grow from saplings to mature trees. During the first 15 years the silver maple outgrew its competitors and was about five feet taller than its rivals, but with its typical unruly form. But by the 20th year, the oaks had overtaken it in size and far exceeded it in grandeur. Around its 25th year an ice storm swept in and stripped it of its limbs and it was removed, while its stouter silvan cousins survived with little damage.

Most trees in our landscapes and park plantings should be those with the promise of outliving us. But don’t be too quick to dismiss these fast growers – the silver maples, the Bradford pears, the willows – for they give immediate effect and can provide the early framework for our gardens. They also make it possible – and necessary for that matter – to redesign the landscape after a few years to correct the mistakes we made the first time around.

The silver maple is an adaptable grower that thrives in a wide array of conditions, growing about as well on mine reclamation sites as in good garden soils. Like most big trees, it should have at least six hours of sunlight, but otherwise will grow almost as successfully on mine spoils as garden soils. Once established it has good drought tolerance, but the tactic it uses to achieve this trait is to drop its inner leaves as drought stress worsens. Like most maples it is shallow rooted, making it difficult to grow other plants beneath it.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist – Ornamentals
Extension News – April 11, 2003

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.

Silver Maple?

Looks like a pretty good choice to me!
( big Wikipedia cut and paste incoming)

The silver maple tree is a relatively fast-growing deciduous tree, commonly reaching a height of 15–25 m (50–80 ft), exceptionally 35 m (115 ft). Its spread will generally be 11–15 m (35–50 ft) wide. A 10-year-old sapling will stand about 8 m (25 ft) tall. It is often found along waterways and in wetlands, leading to the colloquial name “water maple”. It is a highly adaptable tree, although it has higher sunlight requirements than other maple trees.
Silver maple leaves
The leaves are palmate, 8–16 cm long and 6–12 cm broad, with deep angular notches between the five lobes. The 5–12 cm long, slender stalks of the leaves mean that even a light breeze can produce a striking effect as the downy silver undersides of the leaves are exposed. The autumn color is less pronounced than in many maples, generally ending up a pale yellow, although some specimens can produce a more brilliant yellow and even orange and red colorations. The tree has a tendency to color and drop its leaves slightly earlier in autumn than other maples.
Samaras and leaves forming in April.
The flowers are in dense clusters, produced before the leaves in early spring, with the seeds maturing in early summer. The fruit are samaras, each containing a single seed, and winged, in pairs, small (5–10 mm diameter), the wing about 3–5 cm long. The fruit are the largest of any native maple. Although the wings provide for some transport by air, the fruit are heavy and are also transported by water. Silver Maple and its close cousin Red Maple are the only Acer species which produce their fruit crop in spring instead of fall. The seeds of both trees have no epigeal dormancy and will germinate immediately.
On mature trunks, the bark is gray and shaggy. On branches and young trunks, the bark is smooth and silvery gray.
Cultivation and uses
Freeman maple leaf (Acer x freemanii)
Wildlife uses the silver maple in various ways. In many parts of the eastern U.S., the large rounded buds are one of the primary food sources for squirrels during the spring, after many acorns and nuts have sprouted and the squirrels’ food is scarce. The seeds are also a food source for squirrels, chipmunks and birds. The bark can be eaten by beaver and deer. The trunks tend to produce cavities, which can shelter squirrels, raccoons, opossums, owls and woodpeckers.
Native Americans used the sap of wild trees to make sugar, as medicine, and in bread. They used the wood to make baskets and furniture. An infusion of bark removed from the south side of the tree is used by the Mohegan for cough medicine. It is also used by other tribes for various purposes.
Today the wood can be used as pulp for making paper. Lumber from the tree is used in furniture, cabinets, flooring, musical instruments, crates and tool handles, because it is light and easily worked. Because of the silver maple’s fast growth, it is being researched as a potential source of biofuels. Silver maple produces a sweet sap, but it is generally not used by commercial sugarmakers because its sugar content is lower than in other maple species.
Silver maple bark
The silver maple is often planted as an ornamental tree because of its rapid growth and ease of propagation and transplanting. It is highly tolerant of urban situations, and is frequently planted next to streets. However, its quick growth produces brittle wood, and is commonly damaged in storms. The silver maple’s root system is shallow and fibrous, and easily invades septic fields and old drain pipes; it can also crack sidewalks and foundations. It is a vigorous resprouter, and if not pruned, will often grow with multiple trunks. Although it naturally is found near water, it can grow on drier ground if planted there. In ideal natural conditions, A. saccharinum may live up 130 years, but in urban environments often 80 or less.
Following WWII, silver maples were commonly used as a landscaping and street tree in suburban housing developments and cities due to their rapid growth, especially as a replacement for the blighted American Elm. However, they fell out of favor for this purpose because of brittle wood, unattractive form when not pruned or trained, and tendency to produce large numbers of volunteer seedlings, and nowadays it is much less popular for this purpose to the point where some towns and cities banned its use as a street tree.
It is also commonly cultivated outside its native range, showing tolerance of a wide range of climates, growing successfully as far north as central Norway and south to Orlando, Florida. It can thrive in a Mediterranean climate, as at Jerusalem and Los Angeles, if summer water is provided. It is also grown in temperate parts of the Southern Hemisphere: Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, the southern states of Brazil (as well as in a few low-temperature locations within the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais).
The silver maple is closely related to the red maple (Acer rubrum), and can hybridise with it. The hybrid variation is known as the Freeman maple (Acer x freemanii). The Freeman maple is a popular ornamental tree in parks and large gardens, combining the fast growth of silver maple with the less brittle wood and less invasive roots of the red maple.
The silver maple is the favoured host of the parasitic cottony maple scale. and the maple bladder gall mite Vasates quadripedes.

Silver Maple: The Paradox

Acer saccharinum

Silver maples, wrote naturalist Donald Peattie, “impart to every stream and bank where they grow, to every big red Hoosier barn and little white farmhouse, to all the village streets and the long straight roads where they have been planted, an air at once of dignity and lively grace, a combination rare in a tree as in a human.”

Elders among the silver maples are a friendly sight in communities throughout America. Their massive trunks remind us of how long they have stood there, providing a link with the past in a fast-paced world that seems ever looking ahead. Flashes of silver beneath their leaves signal updrafts and approach of rain, and their spring shower of large, twirling seeds is a delight to children.

Silver maples were a staple in many new towns and homesteads on the frontier. Their rapid growth provided quick shade — and they weren’t at all fussy about where they were planted. If there were heroes among trees, silver maples would certainly be candidates for a medal.

But times change. Silver maple has gotten into enough mischief that it is banned as a street tree in some communities. Its offense is that it grows so large, that if planted in a narrow tree lawn or too close to a building, it is inevitable that conflicts with concrete result. Its roots get into trouble too, where space is inadequate, and branches often break under the load of ice or snow. And to someone too old to delight in sticking jumbo seed pods on his nose, well, they are just plain litter.

Silver maple is truly a paradox, but under the right circumstances, its beauty, its spectacular growth rate, and its ability to tolerate poor growing conditions still make it a tree of choice.

A Tree Well Named

The common name for silver maple is highly appropriate. Whether referring to the color of its bark or the flashes of silver when a breeze turns up the underside of its leaves, the name is descriptive. Another name sometimes used is river maple, which is also appropriate given its natural habitat in the rich, moist soil of floodplains.

Acer is said to come from the Celtic word, ac, meaning “hard.” It is applied to the maple genus to denote the density of wood found in this group of trees. The species name, saccharinum, is a variation of the Latin and Green words for “sugar.” This, too, is descriptive, as the sap, must be boiled longer to bring it to the right level of sweetness we value at the breakfast table.

In the Landscape

The silver maple is the fastest growing of any maple species. It can easily reach 50 feet in height within 20 years. And thanks to the adaptability of the species, it has grown popular for sites too difficult for other trees to grow such as poor and compact soil, and hot, dry, conditions (hardiness zones 3-9).

Catch up on Red Maple: Sunset in the Forest

How Fast Do Silver Maple Trees Grow?

maple image by Hubert from

The silver maple tree displays green leaves with a silver tint to the underside that grow to a size of approximately 4 to 6 inches, according to the University of Alabama. It transplants well, growing quickly in wet locations and other places where you might have trouble growing other plants or trees.


The silver maple is a fast-growing tree, according to Iowa State University. This is defined as a tree that grows from an initial planting height of 10 feet to at least 25 feet or more within one decade.

Annual Growth

The silver maple often grows 3 feet or more every year, according to the University of Alabama. Beginning around the age of 11 years, the silver maple produces seeds annually of 1 to 3 inches in length.


The silver maple reaches a mature height between 60 and 80 feet, with a width of 40 to 60 feet, according to the University of Florida. These trees grow taller in moist locations and often have trunks between 5 and 6 feet in diameter in such an environment. They may live more than 130 years under ideal conditions, according to the University of Nebraska.

Figure 4. The native range of silver maple (from Burns and Honkala 1990).

Figure 5. Silver maple bark.

Figure 6. Silver maple samaras and leaves.

Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is one of the most common tree species found in the bottomland hardwood forests of the Upper Midwest. It is a fast growing, shade intolerant species found throughout the Eastern United States and adjacent Canada (figure 4). It reproduces sexually from seed and asexually through stump sprouts. It is characterized by grayish bark that breaks apart and flakes at maturity (figure 5). Its leaves are deeply lobed and loosely serrated at the margin (figure 6). Mature trees reach 90 to 120 feet and 36 to 47 inches in diameter at breast height.

Silver maple blooms early in the spring with greenish yellow flowers that arrive well before their leaves. They tend to be monoecious with male and female flowers on the same tree although there are dioecious races where male and female flowers are borne on separate trees. Following pollination, fruits develop quickly and are mature within three weeks. This process begins in April and last until June throughout most of its range. At maturity, silver maple samaras are the largest of any maple species in the US (figure 6). The winged seeds are disseminated primary by wind but also by water and animals.

Silver maple seeds are produced in great abundance annually and can germinate immediately at maturity, requiring no stratification or seed coat scarification. Seedling establishment is most successful on moist mineral soils with a large amount of organic matter. Seedling development on such soils is quick, ranging from 12 to 36 inches in the first year. On saturated bottomland sites or on sites which are potassium-deficient, seedling development is much slower. First-year seedling mortality is often high due to light competition. In plantations where there is intense vegetation management, silver maple can average 12.5 feet after five growing seasons. On similar sites with no vegetation control the average height is less than 2 feet.

Silver maple tends to grow well in both pure and mixed species stands although growth is largely a function of site and competition. It is a major component of bottomland hardwood forests of the Central United States and present, to a lesser extent in many other forest types throughout the Eastern US and Canada. Common tree associates include American elm, eastern cottonwood, green ash, sycamore, swamp white oak, sweetgum, and pin oak. Small trees and shrubs often found with silver maple include willow, redberry elder, red-osier dogwood, and river birch. Understory plants include jewelweed, poison-ivy, swamp milkweed, Joe-pye-weed, and cardinal flower.

Shape and Distribution
Silver maple, also known as soft maple, is a medium to large tree from 60 to 100 feet tall. The trunk diameter may be as great as 5 feet. The branches rise to form a broadly spreading, rounded crown.

Silver maple is a very common tree in Illinois. It grows in wet soils and moist and rich soils throughout the state. It is also a common tree throughout the eastern deciduous forest.

Interesting Facts
Silver maple has sap that is sweet, but not as sugary as sugar maple sap. Its twigs have an unpleasant odor when broken. The tree is fast growing, but the branches are very brittle and the root system shallow, making it a poor choice as an ornamental. It is also susceptible to a number of diseases and insect damage.

Identifying Features

Silver maple bark is pale gray and smooth when young. As the tree grows older, the bark becomes develops scaly plates, becoming almost shaggy.
The leaves are simple and opposite, up to 8 inches long and almost as wide. They have 5 deeply incised palmate lobes and the leaf margins are toothed. Leaves are green and shiny on the surface and pale or silvery green and sometimes sparsely hairy on the underside. The leaves turn yellow to red in the autumn. The twigs are slender, red-brown, and often curve upward.
Male and female flowers occur separately either on the same tree or, more commonly, on different trees. Flowers appear in yellowish green clusters in early spring before the leaves begin to unfold.
The fruits are “helicopter” fruits. They occur in attached pairs, are up to 3 inches long, and consist of green or yellow wings with large seeds at the base. Fruits appear from April to June. Uses
Silver maple wood is hard, but brittle. It is used for low quality furniture and flooring.

Silver maple

Acer saccharinum
Family: Sapindaceae

Natural History
Upper and lower surfaces of silver maple leaves
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

Silver maple is one of the most common tree species in the United States. It is known by a range of other common names, including creek maple, river maple, silverleaf maple, soft maple, water maple, and white maple. It is a close relative of red maple (Acer rubrum) and can hybridize with it. (The resulting hybrid is known as “Freeman maple.”) Silver maple is tolerant of a wide range of climates, and as a result has been cultivated in many countries outside of its native range, including countries as far north as Norway and as far south as Brazil and Argentina.

Habitat & Range

Silver maple is mostly restricted to rich, moist bottomland soils bordering streams, swamps, and lakeshores, but is capable of development on dry upland sites as well, particularly as an ornamental. It occurs from northeastern Canada west through Ontario, south to north Florida, and west through Arkansas and Oklahoma. It is a somewhat shade-tolerant species.

Wildlife Use

The seeds of silver maple are the largest of any native maple and are a food source for variety of birds and small mammals, including evening grosbeaks, finches, wild turkeys, ducks, squirrels and chipmunks. The large, rounded seeds are also eaten by squirrels during early spring when other food sources are sparse. Deer and rabbits browse on the foliage, and the bark is sometimes consumed by beavers. The tendency for silver maples to develop trunk cavities leads them to be a common shelter and breeding site for a variety of birds and mammals.

Human Use

Silver maple is widely used as an ornamental or shade tree due to its fast growth, fine foliage, and fall color. However, care should be used in selecting this tree because of the risk of damage to the very brittle branches during sleet and high winds.

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Silver maple is a medium-sized tree, usually 60 to 80 feet in height, with a 2 to 3 foot diameter trunk, but is capable of reaching heights of 115 feet. Branches are divergent, forming a wide-spreading round crown. Roots are shallow and are frequently near the surface of the soil.
Leaves: Leaves are simple, opposite, and deciduous. They are palmate with 5 to 7 lobes and 6 to 8 inches long. The leaf margins are coarsely serrate. Leaves are pale green above and silvery-white below. Petioles are red or reddish-green and about 4 inches long.
Twigs: The twigs are brittle, slender, shiny, and reddish-brown. The pith is homogeneous.
Bark: The bark is silvery, thin and smooth, becoming broken into long, loose, scaly plates as the tree matures.
Flowers: This tree is dioecious, with greenish to reddish-colored flowers growing in dense clusters.
Fruit: The fruit of the silver maple is a wrinkled, reddish-brown double samara with divergent wings 1 to 3 inches long. They occur in clusters on slender stalks.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
There are two other maples on our list.

  • Florida maple has similarly-sized leaves, but the lobes are much wider and the underside of the leaf isn’t silver.
  • Red maple has smaller, more narrow leaves, and the underside isn’t silver.


Click on any thumbnail to see a photo. Use left and right arrows to navigate. Use “esc” to exit the lightbox.

Silver maple often has multiple trunks. Leaves of silver maple, showing the silver underside and the green upperside. Leaves of silver maple, showing the silver underside and the green upperside. The bark of silver maple tends to form narrow, flat plates.
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak
University of Florida
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak
University of Florida
Photo credit: T. Davis Sydnor
The Ohio State University
Photo credit: Tom DeGomez
University of Arizona

Learn More

  • USDA Forest Service Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) – Acer saccharinum
  • UF/IFAS EDIS Fact Sheet
  • USDA/NRCS Fact Sheet

Silver Maple

Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is the fastest growing maple either native or planted in Iowa. The leaves are opposite, simple, and palmately lobed with five lobes. The lobes are often very deep; the margins of the leaves are toothed and the upper surface is bright green while the lower surface is silvery, white in color. The pale undersurface often gives the tree a “silvery” appearance from a distance in the gentle breezes. Winter twigs are rather slender, dull red or red-brown in color with v-shaped leaf scars.

Silver Maple Tree – Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

Habitat: Grows on dry open woods, rocky bluffs and pastures. Found throughout Iowa.

Hardiness: Maples vary in hardiness. Most fall into zones 4 through 8, but some are less tolerant of cold or heat than others. When selecting a maple tree, be sure to select a species suited for Iowa’s weather.

Growth Rate: Maples vary in growth rate. Maples that are fast growing tend to have weak wood and may suffer from wind and ice damage. Slower growing maples have heavier, harder wood, making them less susceptible to branch and limb drop.

Mature Shape: Maples typically have a large, rounded crown. Tree canopies may be very dense or wide spreading.

Height: Mature height varies with species.

Width: Width varies with species.

Site Requirements: Maple trees perform best in moist, well-drained soils. Site requirements vary with the species of maple.

Leaves: Opposite simple

Flowering Dates: March – May

Seed Dispersal Dates: October – December

Seed Bearing Age: 10 years

Seed Bearing Frequency: Yearly

Seed Stratification: No stratification period is needed.

Silver Maple Flower Buds – Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

The buds are bright red to dark reddish purple, 1/8 to 1/4 inch in length. The flower buds are formed in conspicuous clumps. The tree flowers very early in the spring; flowers are tiny, red in color and often hidden by the bud scales. The fruit is a broad angle double samara, 1-2 1/2 inches long and matures in late spring or early summer. The bark is smooth, light gray on young trees; it eventually separates into irregular rows of long, scaly, ashy colored plates on older trees. Silver maple is native throughout Iowa.

It can be found on stream banks and floodplains and is a common component of the bottomland forests. It is usually found in association with cottonwoods, willows, boxelder, green ash, hackberry, and black walnut. It prefers moist locations such as these bottomlands, but is quite tolerant of a wide range of sites from moderately wet to quite sandy and dry. Silver maple is a fast growing tree, often growing 4-6 feet in height each year. It is one of the largest trees in Iowa attaining heights of often a 100 feet and from 4-5 feet in diameter.

Fall color of silver maple ranges from green-yellow brown to yellow to brown. As a shade tree silver maple has been used extensively in Iowa, mostly because of its fast growth rate. This is a desirable characteristic, but it tends to be somewhat susceptible to wind damage and breakage later in life. Some of these problems can be avoided if properly pruned when young to promote a single leader and elimination of weak branches.

There are several horticultural selections to choose from when using silver maple as a shade tree. The wood of silver maple is usually sold as soft maple. It is light in color and weight. Its uses range from furniture and veneer to boxes, crates and pallets.

Silver Maple Leaves – Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

Diseases that Can Affect Silver Maple

  • Tar Spot
  • Verticillium Wilt
  • Phyllosticta Leaf Spot
  • Sooty Mold

Pests that Can Affect Silver Maple

  • Woolly Alder Aphid
  • Giant Bark Aphid
  • Cottony Maple Scale
  • Oystershell Scale
  • Yellowbellied Sapsucker
  • Scale Insects

Silver Maple Flowers – Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

Silver Maple Fruit – Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

Silver Maple Twig – Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

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