Map showing the range of area silver maple can be found in. Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey
Family Name: Aceraceae Genus Name: Acer Species name: saccharinum Region of Origin The natural range of silver maple extends from New Brunswick, central Maine, and southern Quebec, west in southeastern Ontario and northern Michigan to southwestern Ontario; south in Minnesota to southeastern South Dakota, eastern Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma; and east in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama to northwestern Florida and central Georgia (2). The species is absent at higher elevations in the Appalachians.
Ecological Area In descriptions of forest vegetation, silver maple appears as a dominant species only in streamside communities or on the fringes of lakes or backwaters of streams. Occasionally it is found in swamps, gullies, and small depressions of slow drainage. Though it generally cannot compete with other species in upland environments, silver maple seedlings are adapted to survive long periods of inundation in bottom lands, where flooding is one of the factors that determine the makeup of individual stands (1, 3).
Size at Maturity Mature Acer saccharinum trees have reached a height of 26 to 37 m (90 to 120 ft) with a trunk diameter of 91 to 122 cm (36 to 48 in) (9). It's spread averages 40 to 60 feet (8).
Image showing how large a silver maple's main stem can get. Photo credit: Steve Hewlett
Example of ring porous and diffuse porous wood. Diffuse is more spread out and smaller. Photo credit from website: Database of Japanese Woods.
Life Expectancy Silver maples may live for over 130 years. In an urban setting they often only live up to 35 years (9).
Wood Silver Maples have diffuse porous wood with many uses. These uses include: veneer, paper (pulpwood), boxes, crates/pallets, musical instruments, turned objects, and other small specialty wood items. It can also be a food source of beavers (4).
Site Characteristics Silver maples favor sites that have well drained yet moist to wet soils as evidenced by often being found as dominant species in stream-side communities and not being found in upland areas. Show surprising tolerance for dry soils. They also need to be somewhere there is sun as it is shade intolerant. They are okay with moderately alkaline soils down to a pH of about 4.
One can modify a site (within reason) to fit this plant by adding finer textured soil (clay or loam) to a coarse grained soil (sand) to help with moisture retention or adding a coarse grained soil (sand) to a fine grained soil (clay). This well help the soil hold moisture while still being able to drain a bit faster than it would otherwise which favors silver maples.
Its cold hardiness zones range from zone 3 to zone 9. Growing season is about four months (May to August) in which annual precipitation ranges from 8-32 inches. It also averages annual snowfall of 0-100 inches (11). Should plant this tree on the North and East side of your yard as that is where there is likely the most moisture.
Fall Foliage of silver maples. A bright yellow. Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder.
Samaras on a silver maple. Photo credit: James Manhart
Reproductive Details Silver maples can be monoecious. That is, they have both male and female flowers. However sometimes they have all male flowers one year and all female flowers the next. They have imperfect flowers. Imperfect flowers are when the flowers have either female or male structures rather than having both. It can be self-fertilizing but also can need a partner if it has only female flowers. (6) Flower timing is every year, often in early March and can last for as little as one 24 hour period or into May (11).
Fruits and seeds of silver maple develop rapidly. Within 24 hours after pollination flower parts become withered and ovaries begin to swell. At the end of 3 weeks, when they become mature samaras, the fruits are about 5 cm (2 in) long. Seed ripening and dispersal over the range of the species begins in April and ends in June. A samara is a winged nut or achene containing one seed (10).
The number of seed-filled fruits per kilogram ranges from 1,980 to 7,050 (900 to 3,200/lb), with an average of 3,920 (1,780/lb), making these the largest seeds of any maple species in the United States.Dissemination is mainly by wind and occasionally by water. The minimum seed-bearing age of trees is 11 years (10). Trees are propagated from seeds and from
cuttings. Cultivars are best produced from cuttings (5).
Male and Female flowers of silver maple trees showing what they look like. Photo credit: Nature Center
Silver maple foliage. Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida
Uses The most common uses for this tree is planting it as an ornamental in urban areas and as a farmstead windbreak tree. When planted as an ornamental as it is big and has thick foliage as well as yellow foliage in the Fall, it is most often planted in yards. It can also be found in parks in moist, well-drained areas of the landscape as a way to have tree cover in those areas as well as the tree taking up some of the excess water. It is not used as a street tree, or at least it shouldn't be as it often grows with poor structure and is adversely impacted by pollutants and illuminating gas leaks. Isn't great for maple syrup (6).
Great tree for wildlife purposes. Its buds serve as a vital food source for squirrel populations. The early swelling and budburst characteristics of the species come during the critical late winter-spring period when stored food supplies of squirrels are exhausted. Very common nesting tree for ducks. Ranks high as a food source for beavers in southeastern Ohio (7).
Maintenance The tree is useful in wet areas, transplants easily and can grow where few others can. As such, this tree is best in wet areas with well-drained soils. Do not plant it with its first main root any deeper than an inch below the soil. It is also hard to plant shrubs and other plants beneath the branches due to the dense root system. Plant it somewhere that gets a lot of sun, full sun is ideal, though if there is moderate sun and a moist site silver maples will do just fine. Plant in early spring, soon after snow melt somewhere there is little competition with other vegetation (5).
Silver maples will require pruning for vehicular or pedestrian clearance beneath the canopy, needs pruning to be grown with a single leader. It is a naturally poor structured tree, thus it requires pruning to develop strong structure (5). Pruning needs to be done to get rid of drooping branches as the tree matures also watching for included bark and weak branch attachments. Pruning should be done some time between April and August, though pruning in the spring is best.
Silver maple bark. Courtesy of Old Naturalist of oldnaturalist.com
Limitations-Pests/Diseases Leaf stalk borer and petiole-borer cause leaf drop which may
appear heavy but serious injury to a healthy tree is
rare. Gall mites stimulate the formation of growths or
galls on the leaves. Does not cause serious injury and control measures often aren't recommended. Scales are an occasional problem on maples. Scales are usually controlled with
horticultural oil sprays. Scales may also be controlled
with well-timed sprays to kill the crawlers (5).
Tar Spot and other leaf spots can cause concern in homeowners but generally aren't serious enough for control. Anthracnose is more of a problem in rainy
disease causes light brown or tan areas on the leaves. Verticillium wilt symptoms are wilting and death
of branches. Verticillium wilt will be deadly for the tree if serious enough. Eutypella and Target cankers impact stem health (5).
Moderately tolerant of soil salt and salt sprays. Generally likes acidic soils and moist sites so it doesn't do as well when soils are alkaline or dry. Generally shade intolerant on unfavorable sites. Ice damage can severely damage silver maples (5).
Silver maple crotch slab. Photo by Tree Purposed Detroit.
References 1. Hosner, J. F. 1960. Relative tolerance to complete inundation of fourteen bottom land tree species. Forest Science 6:246-251 2. Little, Elbert L., Jr. 1979. Checklist of United States trees (native and naturalized). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Handbook 541. Washington, DC. 375 p. 3. Submergence tolerance of selected seedling trees.Loucks, W. L., and R. A. Keen. 1973. Journal of Forestry 71:496-497. 4. Food eaten by a beaver colony in southeast Ohio.Nixon, C. M., and J. Ely. 1969. Ohio Journal of Science 69:313-319. 5. Gilman, Edward F. and Watson, Dennis G.Acer saccharinum Fact Sheet ST-48. [Online] 1993. http://hort.ufl.edu/database/documents/pdf/tree_fact_sheets/acesaca.pdf 6. Hurteau, Matthew D. USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center, c/o, Environmental Horticulture Department, University of California, Davis, California. USDA, NRCS. 2014. The PLANTS Database. 7.Nest sites used by wood ducks and common goldeneyes in New Brunswick.Prince, H. W. 1968. Journal of Wildlife Management 32:489-500. 8. Reichard, T. A. 1976. Spring food habits and feeding behavior of fox squirrels and red squirrels. American Midland Naturalist 96:443A50. 9. Manual of the trees of North America.Sargent, C. 8.1905. vol.2. Dover, New York. 910 p. 10. Schopmeyer, C. S., tech. coord. 1974. Seeds of woody plants in the United States. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Handbook 450. Washington, DC. 883 p. 11. U.S. Department of Commerce, Environmental Data Service. 1968. Climatic atlas of the United States. U.S. Department of Commerce, Environmental Data Services, Washington, DC. pg. 80.