Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Silver Maple, ACER SACCHARINUM, fruiting

from the April 19, 2015 Newsletter issued from Calhoun, McLean County, Kentucky, USA

Back in the 1950s my Grandpa Conrad taught me the name of a big tree growing over his back porch, one whose thick roots buckled up the concrete sidewalk leading to the smokehouse. The tree was a Water Maple, he'd said, and I didn't doubt that he knew the name because a teacher at school had said that Grandpa Conrad probably knew his trees better than anybody in McLean County, Kentucky.

So, I was surprised years later when I purchased my first field guide to the trees of North America and found that no Water Maple was listed. According to the book, the tree overarching Grandpa's house was the Silver Maple, ACER SACCHARINUM. That was my introduction to the fact that common names change from place to place. Other names Grandpa's tree has been known as include Creek Maple, Soft Maple, Swamp Maple, White Maple and Silverleaf Maple.

Whatever the good old tree's name, nowadays in super-green western Kentucky it's a busy time for the species because not only is it contributing to the general greenness by issuing delicate-looking, new leaves from the tips of slender branches, but also it's heavy with great gobs of green, samara-type fruits -- samaras being one-seeded, winged fruits that don't split open when mature. At the top of this page you can see what this green-on-green situation looks like on a tree in a swamp along the Green River.

A close-up of a couple of that tree's expanding leaves is shown below:

Silver Maple, ACER SACCHARINUM, new leaves

Even those young leaves show features distinguishing them from leaves of our other maple species found here: The sinuses between the leaves' major lobes are sharp-bottomed or V-shaped, not rounded or U-shaped like the Sugar Maple's, plus the major lobes are longish, not like the Red Maple's stubbier lobes. A close-up of a healthy cluster of Silver Maple samaras is shown below:

Silver Maple, ACER SACCHARINUM, samaras

Just by looking at some of the Silver Maple's various common names -- Water Maple, Creek Maple, Swamp Maple -- you can guess that the Silver Maple likes wetlands. It's very common in these parts in deep swamps and along rivers.

Out in the swamps, Silver Maples are well used by wildlife. During late winter and early spring their large, rounded buds are nibbled on by squirrels, the samaras are eaten by squirrels and birds, the bark is gnawed on by beaver and deer, plus the tree's trunks tend to produce cavities, which can shelter squirrels, raccoons, opossums, owls and woodpeckers.

Silver Maples are distributed throughout the forested areas of eastern North America, except for parts of the US Deep South, including most of Florida and Louisiana.