Botanists say that trees need the powerful March winds to flex their trunks and main branches, so the sap is drawn up to nourish the budding leaves. Perhaps we need the gales of life in the same way, though we dislike enduring them. ~Jane Truax
I love to gaze at trees all winter. The intricacies of their branches, how they are painted against the sky… the look of the snow encapsulating them as if they were encased in a sort of white clay and showing off each curve, grain and bump. Then there is the way mature bark is colored by moss and lichen.
When we bought our land it was a low lying open wood a bit swampy at times with undergrowth and lots of leaf litter. When it was cleared there were about 14-15 white ash that remained along with 2 swamp maples as they were called. Four white ash were too close to the house and not in great shape so we had the builder take them down. Ten strong, large ash trees remained along with the 2 smaller maples. One ash tree suddenly died a few years later more than likely due to the excavation of the land.
Many who have read this blog for a while now, know that the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is in our area. So we beheaded the largest ash (100 ft) as it had carpenter ant damage and the top was likely to split and come crashing down. And we took down 4 ash trees (3 to stumps and one left as a snag) last year as a way to deal with the invasion of the EAB. Subsequently we have read that the local woodpeckers may slow the progress so we are not taking down the remaining 5 ash trees at this point.
Since I have focused on the ash trees in the past, I thought this year I would shift my focus to the largest of the 2 maples to highlight for Lucy@Loose and Leafy’s Tree Following meme that happens around the 7th of every month. As far as I can determine, my maple is a Silver Maple.
Acer saccharinum or silver maple also goes by the names creek maple, silverleaf maple, soft maple, water maple, swamp maple, or white maple. It is usually found in wetlands such as my property or along waterways. My maple is in the foreground.
Silver maple is a native tree to eastern North America, and is one of the most common trees in the United States. It is a fast growing deciduous tree reaching heights around 80-100 feet, and it can spread 10 50 ft. Since mine has been overshadowed by the surrounding larger ash trees, it is almost 80 feet tall but not as wide may 25-30 feet.
This is the bottom of the trunk of my tree. Often mature silver maple bark will appear gray and shaggy, but more smooth and silvery gray on younger trees. I estimate my tree is 25-30 years old. These trees if left in the wild can live up to 130 years. You can see here the older bark at the bottom of my tree is more etched. In the picture below, the younger bark which is more toward the middle and top of the tree is smoother in appearance.
Native Americans used the bark medicinally for dysentery, hives, measles, sores and coughs. It is said Native Americans also used the tree’s sap to make sugar. Silver maples are not usually used today for maple syrup because the sugar content is lower than sugar maples. But you can tap silver maples and make syrup. I may look into this.
Early settlers used the bark for a dye, and tapped these trees and drank the sap as a spring tonic to treat liver and kidney problems and coughs.
You can see how nature has sculpted my tree. There are crags, and lines etched in it. And the multi-colored lichen and moss growing on it is one of the most beautiful aspects of this tree.
Native Americans also used silver maple wood for baskets and furniture. Of course today we use silver maples for paper, cabinets, flooring, musical instruments, and many other items because the wood is light and easy to work with. And because of its rapid growth, there is research into using silver maples as a source for biofuels.
The flower buds, that look like red berries, appear on my tree in later fall once the leaves have completely fallen off the tree. They stay tight in the bud until the flowers appear before the leaves in early spring. The fruit is a single seed and grows in winged pairs in spring. The silver maple fruit is the largest fruit of any native maple. And the fruit or seed will germinate immediately when they fall to the ground.
The silver maple is heavily used by wildlife. The flower buds are a primary food source for squirrels, chipmunks and birds in spring. And the bark is eaten by beaver and deer. The trunks easily become cavities that shelter squirrels, raccoons, opossums, woodpeckers and owls. I would love to have woodpeckers and owls make a home in my tree eventually.
Sugar maples and silver maples are very close in appearance, but can be distinguished by their leaves. Silver maple leaves are slender with 5 lobes marked by deep angular notches. They move gracefully in the breeze showing off their silver underside.
One of the most beautiful aspects of maple trees is their fall color. But silver maples have less pronounced colors usually turning a pale yellow. Although they can turn bright yellow, orange and red as mine do. And silver maple leaves will color and drop earlier than most maples.
The silver maple is a host for some pests. One is the parasitic cottony maple scale that I have not spotted, and the maple bladder gall mite, Vasates quadripedes, that I have seen. But the biggest issue is the fungal disease known as tar spot. You can see some black spots on the leaves here. This is more of a cosmetic issue, and does not affect the health of the tree.
Silver maples were once a favorite tree to plant along streets because of its rapid growth, ease of transplanting and tolerance of conditions in cities. But this tree has since become more of a problem tree for cities because the wood is brittle and easily damaged not to mention the roots which can invade pipes and crack sidewalks and foundations. They also produce so many volunteers, that homeowners tend to curse not praise them. And in many cities they are now banned as a street tree.
Maples are highly prized in New York State as the sugar maple is the state tree of NY. But even if silver maples are not a favorite on city streets, I will cherish mine for its beauty and for all it gives to my wildlife garden.
In the Language of Flowers, maple blossoms were thought to signify “reserve”.
Do you have a favorite tree you are growing or want to grow? Are you planting any new trees this year?
“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.” ― William Blake
Next up on the blog: Monday I will have an update of my garden from March with a Garden Journal post. What a cold month it has been with an amazing end.
I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden.
As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.
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