18 Different Types of Maple Trees & Their Identifying Features

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Written By Lyrae Willis

Environmental Scientist & Plant Ecologist

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I have always thought maple trees are some of the most beautiful trees in the world.

Their lovely green leaves turn spectacular reds, yellows, and oranges in the fall. In winter, their bark, buds, and naked branches provide color and texture to an otherwise drab landscape.

Maple trees are critical components of many ecosystems in the northern hemisphere. They provide wildlife values for butterflies, bees, birds, deer, squirrels, chipmunks, and beavers and are home to epiphytes, including lichens, mosses, clubmosses, and ferns.

There are so many different types of maples, but they are all part of the same genus Acer, which used to be its own family but is now part of the Sapindaceae family.

Acer has about 130 accepted species worldwide. Most are Asian, but there are many important species in North America, Europe, and Africa. Only one species extends into the Southern Hemisphere in Indonesia.

Exploring Maple Varieties – 18 Types and How to Recognize Them

1. Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum)

Bigleaf Maple and Leaf Identifying Features
Images by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

To say that Bigleaf Mapleis an impressive tree would be putting it mildly. It is a large, beautiful tree with huge leaves, and it is always covered with an array of epiphytic mosses, clubmoss, lichens, and ferns.

It is native to the Pacific Northwest, where it grows at low to middle elevations in riparian areas and open mixed or coniferous forests within 190 miles of the coastline. It grows well in full sun or partial shade.

Bigleaf Maple is our largest maple, with the largest specimens reaching 158 ft tall and a trunk diameter of 12 ft. Usually, however, they only reach about 75 ft tall.

Its huge leaves are 6 – 12” (up to 24”) across and have five deeply cut palmate lobes that typically each have 1-2 lobes or lobules of their own. They turn beautiful shades of gold and yellow in the fall, creating a spectacular sight in the forest.

Other Common Names: Oregon Maple, Broadleaf Maple

Identifying Features: The Bigleaf Maple’s 6 – 12 (up to 24)” deeply 5-lobed palmate leaves make it very easy to identify as no other maple trees have such large leaves. It has a very thick trunk with furrowed gray bark that is usually heavily covered with moss and other epiphytes.

Native Area: The Pacific Northwest from the southeastern tip of Alaska south to San Diego, California. However, it becomes very rare a little north of Vancouver, British Columbia.

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 75 (to 158) ft tall, 30 – 50(to 104) ft spread

2. Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple Tree Identifying Features
Left Image by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize, Right Image via Nature Hills

The Red Maple Acer rubrum is gorgeous maple native to woodlands all over eastern North America, from southern Canada south to Florida and Texas.

It is a highly adaptable tree and grows in a variety of habitats, from swamps to dry upland soils in a wide variety of soil types and textures.

They are common in disturbed forests but become much less common as the forest matures, preferring full sun to partial shade. As a result of human disturbance, their population has increased in their native range.

It is perhaps best known for the 2 – 4” long three-lobed palmate leaves that turn the most vibrant shade of red in the fall, though occasionally they turn yellow or orange.

In the spring, the new buds are often red, the flowers are reddish, and even the bark on the twigs is a reddish color. The samaras are also often a brilliant shade of red.

Red Maple, Canadian Maple (Acer rubrum)
Red Maple in Spring – Images by Fern Berg for Tree Vitalize

Other Common Names: Swamp Maple, Water Maple, Soft Maple

Identifying Features: In addition to the red fall leaves and samaras, Red Maple can be identified by its usually 3-lobed leaves with a coarsely serrated margin. Sometimes the leaves are 5-lobed, but the lowermost two lobes are much smaller than the upper three, and the lobes are never as deeply cut as other similar species. The bark becomes dark brown with irregular grooves (furrows) as it matures.

Native Area: Southeastern Canada from Manitoba east to Newfoundland and south through the eastern USA from east Texas to central Florida.

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8 (9)

Average Size at Maturity: 75 – 100(to 120) ft tall, 30 – 50 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills

3. Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)

The Silver Maple is a gorgeous maple native to eastern North America. This should not be confused with Sugar Maple Acer saccharum, with a similar Latin name.

What is most notable about this tree is its 3 – 6” long five-lobed green leaves that are a beautiful silver-white underneath.

The leaves flutter attractively in the wind on their long leaf stalks and show off their silver-white bottoms. In the fall, they turn a lovely shade of yellow or sometimes orange.

Silver Maple Acer saccharinum_By Renee McGurk
Image by Renee Mcgurk – Silver Maple, CC BY 2.0

It is a fast-growing and highly adaptable tree that tolerates various soils, climates, water, and urban conditions. It does not grow in full shade, preferring full sun or part shade.

It used to frequently be used as a street tree because of its tolerance, but it has shallow roots that can be aggressive. It should not be planted too close to a sidewalk, road, foundation, etc.

Other Common Names: Creek Maple, Silverleaf Maple, Soft Maple, Water Maple, Swamp Maple, White Maple

Identifying Features: Silver Maple has a unique silver color on the underside of its leaves that makes it easy to distinguish it from all other maples. It is sometimes mistaken for Red Maple when it has 5-lobed leaves, but the Silver Maple has very deeply cut leaf lobes that are very sharply acuminate compared to the very shallow acuminate lobes of the Red Maple. Its smooth gray bark becomes irregularly grooved and shaggy as it matures.

Native Area: Eastern USA, excluding Texas and Florida, plus southeastern Canada from Ontario east to New Brunswick

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 80 (to 100) ft tall, 35 – 50 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

4. Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

Sugar Maple Pics
Images via Fast-Growing-Trees – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

The Sugar Maple is another famous tree native to eastern North America. This is where we get most of that delicious maple syrup made from its clear sap. It requires cold winters (zones 3 – 5) for sugar production.

Not only is it useful, it is also beautiful. Its five-lobed leaves turn brilliant yellows, oranges, and orange-reds in the fall. They tend to change color unevenly with a variety of shades on the tree at the same time, making for a spectacular fall color display.

Sugar Maple tolerates almost any soil except pure sand or permanently wet soils. It is quite deep-rooted, allowing it to thrive in drier conditions. It also tolerates full sun and full shade and can be found growing in open areas as well as dense forests.

It does not do well, however, in urban conditions, being more susceptible to pollution, acid rain, compacted soils, and road salts.

Other Common Names: Sugar Tree, Rock Maple, Sweet Maple, Curly Maple, Bird’s Eye Maple

Identifying Features: The Sugar Maple has larger 5-lobed leaves than many maples at 6-8” long. Its two lowermost lobes are shorter than the upper three, and its upper three lobes are very deeply cut. It also has a few large pointy teeth, sometimes described as lobules, on each of its lobes. When you break a leaf off, the sap at the leaf base is clear instead of the milky sap seen in Norway Maple. Its smooth gray bark becomes thicker and darker and develops distinctive vertical furrows as it matures.

Native Area: Eastern USA from Tennessee north, southeastern Canada from Ontario east to Prince Edward Island.

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 115’ (to 150’) ft tall, 40 – 50 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

5. Black Maple (Acer saccharum ssp nigrum)

Identifying Black Maple Tree
Images by Douglas Goldman & Douglas Goldman – CC BY-SA 4.0

The Black Maple is a subspecies of the Sugar Maple. It used to be considered its own species, Acer nigrum but was recently included in Sugar Maple as Acer saccharum ssp nigrum.

The two can be differentiated based on the usually three-lobed darker green leaves of Black Maple compared to the usually five-lobed lighter green leaves of Sugar Maple.

In the fall, the slightly drooping dark green leaves turn a lovely golden-yellow color, and sometimes reds and oranges are also seen.

The bark of Black Maple is so dark gray that it can look almost black. As it matures, the bark gets very thick and deeply grooved, providing an interesting feature in the winter.

Black Maple has a similar but somewhat narrower range and tolerances than Sugar Maple. It prefers more moist soils and is typically found in river valleys and riparian areas.

Other Common Names: Black Sugar Maple

Identifying Features: The Black Maple usually has 3-lobed leaves that are dark green, drooping, and have few and/or somewhat rounded (crenate-serrate) teeth. When they have the same number of lobes as Sugar Maple, they can be told apart by the color and the slightly thicker leaf stalks with leafy stipules (small appendages) at their base that are never seen in Sugar Maple (stipules may not remain all growing season). It has thicker and darker gray bark that is more deeply furrowed than most other maples, but bark alone cannot tell it apart from Sugar Maple.

Black Maple with text edits
Image by Douglas Goldman – CC BY-SA 4.0 – Overlain Text Added By Lyrae Willis

Native Area: The midwestern USA, the northeastern USA north of Tennesse, southeast Canada (Ontario and Quebec)

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 70 – 100 ft tall, 40 – 60 ft spread

6. Bigtooth Maple (Acer saccharum ssp grandidentatum)

Bigtooth Maple - Grid 2 Square
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work, For Tree Vitalize

This is another species that was recently reclassified as a subspecies of Sugar Maple. It used to be Acer grandidentatum and is often still referred to this way by many sources.

It is a small to medium-sized tree with medium leaves that have 3-5 blunt lobes, which each usually also has 3-5 smaller lobes (lobules), giving it its common name because they appear like big teeth. The leaves turn a lovely vibrant red and gold in the fall.

It usually grows at higher elevations in the Rocky Mountains from Wyoming south to New Mexico but can be found sometimes in valley bottoms, particularly in Texas and Oklahoma.

It can be found in a wide range of soil types but will not tolerate saline soils or prolonged flooding.

It is often used as a shade tree in valley bottoms for people and livestock, providing food and shelter for wildlife as well.

Other Common Names: Canyon Maple, Rocky Mountain Sugar Maple

Identifying Features: The Bigtooth Maple has 3-5-lobed leaves with blunt lobes with 3-5 rounded teeth (large crenate teeth, sometimes described as lobules) on each lobe. It has thin bark that is gray to dark brown with narrow grooves or fissures and plate-like scales that are easily damaged. Its rose-colored samaras are fused at about 60 degrees to each other.

Native Area: North America from Wyoming south to New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, plus northern Mexico.

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 35 (to 50) ft tall, spread about half the height

7. Rocky Mountain Maple (Acer glabrum)

Rocky Mountain Maple Identification images - Stan Shebs & Lyrae Willis
Images by Stan Shebs, tree, CC BY-SA 3.0 and Lyrae Willis, shrub

Rocky Mountain Maple is a much smaller tree than most maples, usually only growing to 30 ft tall. It is usually multi-stemmed from the ground and often remains as a large shrub.

It is one of our most northern maples, where it grows naturally in southeastern Alaska. And, as the name suggests, it is often found growing in the mountains throughout its range.

It has small 3(rarely 5)-lobed coarsely toothed leaves that turn yellow to reddish-orange in the fall. In the winter, it has reddish buds and stems providing a touch of winter color. And in spring, it has very fragrant yellow flowers that appear before or simultaneously with the new leaves.

It is common in rocky soils and fire-disturbed sites but is not found in mature forests, so it grows well in full sun and partial shade. In warmer climates, however, the leaves may scorch if planted in full sun.

Other Common Names: Varieties within the species have the common names of Douglas Maple, Torrey Maple, Greene’s Maple, and New Mexico Maple.

Identifying Features: Rocky Mountain Maple can be identified by its small size or shrub habit and its small to medium-sized shallowly 3(5)-lobed leaves that are coarsely serrated all along the edges. While the leaves can appear very similar to Red Maple, their native range and tree size can easily be used to tell them apart. The medium green leaves have prominent pale veins on the upper surface, and the lower surface is pale green.

Rocky Mountain Maple image - Leaves Lyrae Willis
Image by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Native Area: Western North America from southernmost Alaska south to Arizona, New Mexico, and east to western Nebraska.

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 30 (to 40) ft tall, 10 – 15 ft spread

8. Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum)

Striped Maple Tree
Image by Isfisk, Own Work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Striped Maple is another small tree or multi-stemmed shrub, and its most notable and unique feature is its striped bark.

When young, the bark on its often forked trunk is green and white striped. As it ages, it turns more brownish, but the stripes remain.

Its leaves are soft and green, 3 – 6” long, with three forward-pointing lobes. The shape of the leaf looks similar to a goose foot, giving it one of its other common names.

Striped Maple Identification images - Lyrae Willis
Images by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

In the fall, the leaves turn a lovely bright yellow. Then, the striped bark adds an interesting feature to the winter landscape.

It prefers partial shade and moist, well-drained soil, but it will also grow in full shade. It often grows slowly under the closed canopy of the forest, waiting for a gap to provide light so it can mature and produce fruits. Its leaves tend to scorch if grown in full sun.

Other Common Names: Moose Maple, Moosewood, Goosefoot Maple, Snakebark Maple, Whistlewood

Identifying Features: The two-tone greenish-gray and white multi-colored bark of the Striped Maple is so distinctive that it is hard to mistake this for any other maple species. It has soft green leaves with three forward-pointing lobes with only shallow teeth on the margins that are often crenate or crenate-serrate rather than serrated. Its samaras are usually fused at more than 90 degrees to each other, forming an obtuse angle.

Native Area: Northeastern North America from Michigan east to Nova Scotia, south through the Appalachian Mountains to northern Georgia

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 20(to 33) ft tall, 15 – 20 ft spread

9. Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)

Japanese Maple Identification images
Images via Nature Hills – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

The Japanese Maple is native to Asia and has been cultivated in Japan for many centuries, and thousands of cultivars have been created.

It is most easily recognized by its cultivars with unusual leaf colors during the growing season. In addition to various shades of green, they also come in red, purple, burgundy, black-red, and bronze, as well as variegated forms with white, cream, or yellow.

The leaves are all under 5” long and are 5, 7, or 9-lobed with double-toothed margins, giving them an interesting appearance. Cultivars vary in how deeply cut the lobes are, and some varieties even have palmately compound leaves.

A Variety of Japanese Maple cultivar (Acer palmatum) Leaves
A variety of Japanese Maple cultivars – Images by Fern Berg for Tree Vitalize

It is a tree of temperate Asia, and as such, it will suffer from both extreme heat and extreme cold. In the northern limits of its range, it may suffer dieback in harsh winters. In the southern end of its range, it should be given partial shade.

Other Common Names: Palmate Maple, Smooth Japanese Maple

Identifying Features: Japanese Maple cultivars have various shades of purple, red, or bronze leaves during the growing season and can easily be differentiated from other maples with their green leaves. Green-leaved varieties can be identified by their broad 5, 7, or 9-lobed leaves with double-serrated margins and lobes that are usually sharply long-acuminate.

Native Area: Japan, China, Korea

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8 for most, with some cultivars 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 25 (to 55) ft, spread up to 20 ft

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

10. Vine Maple (Acer circinatum)

Vine Maple Identification images
Images by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Vine Maple is native to the Pacific Northwest, not to be confused with the Asian Vine Leaf Maple Acer cissifolium.

Interestingly, it is more closely related to Asian maples than North American species. It is easy to tell if you look at its leaves that have 7-11 lobes instead of the usual 3-5.

In the fall, the leaves turn bright yellow, red, and orange, giving a beautiful show of fall color. In spring and summer, the samaras often turn red.

They are shrubs or rarely small trees with narrow trunks that seldom exceed 10” in diameter. They tend to bend over easily and root where the branch touches the soil, much like a vine.

It is an ideal landscape tree, especially in its native region. It will grow upright when in full sun, and when grown in full shade and left unpruned, it spreads more horizontally, a feature not seen in other maples.

Other Common Names: Oregon Vine Maple

Identifying Features: Vine Maple can easily be identified by its medium-sized broad palmate leaves with 7 – 11 acute to acuminate lobes with serrated or sometimes double-serrated margins. Its often brightly colored samaras are fused at nearly 180 degrees from each other. In the shade, it can appear to grow more vine-like than a tree, falling over and rooting at its nodes.

Native Area: The Pacific Northwest from southern coastal British Columbia south to northern California.

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 25 (to 50) ft tall, 15 to 20 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills

11. Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

Norway Maple Identification images
Images via Nature Hills – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

The leaves of Norway Maple are very symmetrical, with five lobes with tips that narrow to a fine hair-like point and a few large teeth on the margins. In the fall, they turn bright yellow and sometimes orange-red in different cultivars.

The gray bark has small grooves, often diamond-grooved, and it doesn’t become shaggy when mature like many other maples.

It is a shallow-rooted species and cannot be grown close to other plants as it will starve them for water. In the forest, it can form a dense canopy that inhibits understory growth and outcompetes native trees.

It frequently escapes cultivation and is now moving into mature forests throughout North America. It has become an aggressive invasive species and has already been prohibited in some US states. It is best to avoid growing this tree when there are so many other beautiful native and non-invasive non-native maples to choose from.

Other Common Names: European Maple

Identifying Features: The Norway Maple is quite similar to the Sugar Maple, but if you remove a leaf, the sap at the leaf base is always milky instead of clear. Its leaves are broader than they are long, with its five acuminate or caudate lobes tapering to a very fine hair-like point. The samaras that spread almost horizontally and their narrowly grooved or diamond-grooved bark also helps distinguish them from other maples.

Native Area: East and central Europe, western Asia

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 65(to 100) ft tall; 30 – 50 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills

12. Amur Maple (Acer tataricum ssp ginnala)

Amur Maple Identification images
Images via Nature Hills and by MPF – CC BY-SA 3.0

Amur Maple used to be classified as its own species, Acer ginnala, but more recently was classified as a subspecies of the Tatarian Maple, Acer tataricum.

Amur Maple is a small tree or a multi-stemmed shrub. It has glossy three-lobed leaves with a much larger central lobe than the two side lobes. In the fall, the leaves turn a fiery red or sometimes yellow.

It’s a very hardy maple and a tree that can survive USDA zone 2 if sheltered. It prefers moist, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade and can tolerate some drought. In warmer climates, the leaves may scorch in full sun.

It can spread both vegetatively and by seed and has recently been as invasive. It is currently regulated in the USA in Minnesota and Connecticut. Regulation will likely increase as scientists have found invasive populations in 22 US states and four Canadian provinces.

Other Common Names: Siberian Maple

Identifying Features: The easiest way to identify Amur Maple is its glossy dark green three-lobed leaves with a much bigger central lobe and deeply cut lobes. The Tartarian Maple looks quite similar but does not have glossy leaves, they are a lighter green, and they are only shallowly lobed.

Native Area: Mongolia, Siberia, Japan, Korea, Russian Far East

USDA Growing Zones: 3(2) – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 20(to 35) ft tall, 10 – 20 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

13. Sycamore Maple (Acer pseudoplatanus)

Sycamore Maple Identification
Images by Willow, Leaf, CC BY-SA 2.5 and Alberto Salguero, trunk, CC BY-SA 3.0

Sycamore Maple is named after its resemblance to the sycamore tree (Platanus spp). It has bark that is smooth and gray when young but flakes in irregular to rectangular scales as it matures, similar to sycamore.

Its leaves superficially resemble sycamores as well but can quickly be distinguished by their arrangement on the branches in opposite pairs instead of singly and alternate in Platanus.

Unlike most maples, its dark green leaves do not change color in the fall, or if they do, they turn a yellowish-brown color. It is more often chosen for its tolerance than for fall color.

This is a popular tree for urban plantings and roadsides since it tolerates salt and pollution very well and prefers the full sun.

It has been seen to escape cultivation thanks to its prolific production of viable seeds. It has been declared an invasive species by numerous countries, including Canada and the USA.

Other Common Names: Planetree Maple

Identifying Features: The Sycamore Maple can usually be recognized by its mature bark that flakes in irregular to somewhat rectangular scales. Its 5-lobed serrated leaves on long leaf stalks have no leafy stipules at the base of the stalk, and its acuminate or acute lobes and teeth are not extremely fine-pointed like some maples. Its winged fruits are 60 – 90 degrees from each other.

Native Area: Central and southern Europe, western Asia

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 70(to 100) ft tall, 40 – 60 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills

14. Florida Maple (Acer saccharum ssp floridanum)

Florida Maple Tree Identification
Images by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

The Florida Maple is yet another maple that was its own species Acer floridanum but has recently been included as a subspecies of Sugar Maple though not all sources reflect this yet.

It is a medium to large size tree with 3 – 5-lobed palmate leaves that are light green above and covered with small white hairs on the undersides, leaf stalks, and often the leaf edges as well, giving them a very fuzzy appearance.

In the fall, the leaves turn shades of yellow and orange. The fall color is not quite as showy as the Sugar Maple, but it is still a lovely sight to see.

It is perhaps best known as an alternative to Sugar Maple for those in hotter climate zones like the southern USA, where maples generally do not grow as well. Florida Maple tolerates heat much better than its cousin, having evolved in warmer southern climates.

Other Common Names: Southern Sugar Maple, Hammock Maple

Identifying Features: Florida Maple has smaller leaves with smaller lobes that are more sharply acuminate on the tips than Sugar Maple. The numerous white pubescent to hispid hairs on the underside of the leaves and the leaf stalk is an easy way to identify them. It also has more whitish bark than most other maples, except perhaps the Chalk Maple.

Native Area: southeastern USA

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 60 (to 100) ft tall, 25 – 40 ft spread

15. Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum)

Paperbark Maple Identification images
Images by Agnieszka Kwiecień – CC BY-SA 4.0 and Fast-Growing-Trees

The Paperbark Maple has uniquely beautiful orange-red to cinnamon-colored papery bark that peels away in strips.

It also has unusual leaves with three compound leaflets, sometimes mistakenly described as deeply three-lobed. The elliptic leaflets are shallowly lobed, green above, and glaucus blue-green below with a wax-like coating that rubs off.

The leaves turn brilliant shades of red or orange, providing spectacular fall color. In winter, the papery bark adds color and texture to the winter landscape.

It grows well in full sun or part shade in average well-drained soil and requires a moderate amount of moisture. It will tolerate clay soil but will not tolerate drought.

In its native habitat, it is an endangered species with few mature individuals left due to habitat fragmentation and its mostly non-viable seed production. Mostly non-viable seeds mean, however, that they will never become invasive. Nursery trees are often made from cuttings.

Other Common Names: Blood-bark Maple

Identifying Features: The Paperbark Maple has unique papery bark that peels away in thin strips, making it very hard to mistake it for any other maple. The three elliptic leaflets that are themselves shallowly lobed, green above, and glaucous blue-green with pubescent veins below will also help identify this tree. Its samaras are fused at about a 90-degree angle and are very pubescent.

Native Area: Central China

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 30 ft tall, 15 – 25 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

16. Hedge Maple (Acer campestre)

Hedge Maple Identification images - Willow and Gaffard
Images by Willow – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5 & Jean François Gaffard, CC BY-SA 3.0

Hedge Maple is a small tree or occasionally a large shrub, particularly when pruned since pruning a tree results in a smaller tree or shrub.

It has five-lobed leaves with much more rounded lobes and smooth margins lacking teeth giving it a unique soft appearance not usually seen in maple leaves.

The leaves also provide beautiful fall colors when they turn shades of yellow.

It tolerates a wide range of conditions, including high salt, acid, and alkalinity, as well as drought and pollution. This makes it popular for urban plantings, roadsides, and other places where conditions are less than ideal for other maples.

Dwarf cultivars are quite popular for making beautiful bonsai trees due to their small size and small leaves.

While it has been reported naturalized outside of its native range in many countries, including the USA, it is not yet considered invasive anywhere.

Other Common Names: Filed Maple, Common Maple

Identifying Features: Hedge Maple can most easily be identified by its quite small 5-lobed leaves with usually blunt, rounded lobes and entire margins, along with its small size or shrub habit. Additionally, its winged fruits are usually fused 180 degrees from each other or sometimes at an obtuse angle between 90 and 180 degrees.

Native Area: most of continental Europe, southwestern Asia, and north African mountains.

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 25 – 35 (to 80) ft tall, 25 – 35 ft spread

17. Hornbeam Maple (Acer carpinifolium)

Hornbeam Maple Tree Identification images
Image by Derek Ramsey and Derek Ramsey – Own Work, CC BY-SA 2.5

Hornbeam Maple gets its name from its leaves which resemble Hornbeams (Carpinus spp) more so than any maple tree.

The leaves are unique for maples in that they are simple without any lobes. They are roughly oval in shape, have a double-toothed margin, and taper to a long point at the end. They have 18 – 24 pairs of very prominent pinnate veins, giving them an interesting corrugated look.

In the fall, the leaves turn various shades of yellow and orange, with multiple colors on the tree simultaneously making for lovely fall colors.

The winged samaras are often both yellow and orange, adding additional color to the tree.

It prefers moist, well-drained soil but can grow in light, sandy soil and even clay soil. It does best in full sun or partial shade.

It is not a common choice as a landscape tree, but it is beautiful, easy to grow, and is not invasive.

Other Common Names: None

Identifying Features: Hornbeam Maple has unique leaves among maples that are simple ovate-oblong and long-acuminate with a fine point. They are double-serrated and very prominently pinnately veined, giving them a corrugated appearance. The angle of the fruits can vary widely from 45 – 120 degrees, but the presence of samaras typical of maples, along with the unique leaves, will quickly give you a positive identification.

Native Area: Islands of Japan

USDA Growing Zones: 5(4) – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 30 ft tall, 10 – 20 ft spread

18. Boxelder (Acer negundo)

Boxelder Maple Identification
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work, for Tree Vitalize

Boxelder is a fast-growing tree with multiple trunks that tolerates a very wide range of hardiness zones, from 2 – 10.

It has unique leaves that are pinnately compound with 3-7 (to 9) leaflets, resembling more of an Ash Tree than a maple.

The leaflets are interesting translucent light green, ovate to elliptic in shape, and either lacks teeth or have only 3-5 coarse teeth or shallow lobes.

Leaflets provide fall color when they turn bright, vibrant yellow (northern areas) or orange-brown (southern areas).

It produces abundant fertile seeds and is invasive outside its native range, though no serious impacts have been noted.

It is native to North America and provides important wildlife values there.

It is one of the few fully dioecious maples requiring a male and a female tree to reproduce. Viable seeds could be avoided by only planting male or female or only planting a single tree.

Flamingo Boxelder (Acer negundo 'Flamingo')
Flamingo Boxelder (Acer negundo ‘Flamingo’) – Images by Fern Berg for Tree Vitalize

Other Common Names: Boxelder Maple, Manitoba Maple, Ash-Leaved Maple

Identifying Features: Few maples have compound leaves, and only Boxelder usually has more than three leaflets (3 – 9) in their compound leaves, making it easy to differentiate them from any other maple tree. The compound leaves and typical winged maple fruits will easily identify them in the field. The translucent light green color of the leaves with entire or barely serrated margins will also help identify it from other compound-leaved maples when it has only three leaflets.

Native Area: Much of the USA but mostly eastern, also southcentral Canada, with disjunct populations in Mexico and Guatemala.

USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 10

Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 50(to 80) ft tall, spread is usually about the same as its height.

Available at: Nature Hills

Maple Tree Identification (With Photos)

There are too many maple trees to discuss in detail, and I could talk about them all day, so instead, I will cover 18 of the more well-known and some of the more unique maples.

The best way to identify maples is by their leaves, fruits, and sometimes the bark.

The flowers are small and short-lived and more difficult to use in identification most of the time. But I will still show you what the flowers look like since many bloom before the leaves appear in spring, and if you know what the bark looks like, then you can at least identify it as a maple.

Identifying Maple Trees by Their Leaf Arrangement

Most maple trees have deciduous leaves that change color in the autumn and fall from the tree. A few varieties are evergreen, but these are uncommon and can be quickly identified in winter.

Not all maples have the characteristic five-lobed leaves we picture when we think of a maple leaf. Some have compound leaves made of multiple leaflets, and others have simple leaves without lobes.

Regardless of what type of leaf they have, all maple leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, with two leaves at each node. This can be used to differentiate them from Plane Trees that have similar palmately lobed leaves but have a single leaf per node arranged on alternating sides of the branch.

Sometimes maple leaves can appear in whorl-like clusters of four at branch tips, but these are false whorls caused by nodes that are very close together.

Leaf Arrange - 3 Square - alternate falsewhorl opposite - Acer
Images by Lyrae Willis – Own Work, for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Maple Trees by Their Palmately Lobed Leaves

Most maples are known for their palmately lobed leaves. These leaves have lobes that spread radially away from the petiole (leaf stalk).

Some maples have forward-pointing rather than radially spreading lobes, and this can be very useful in identifying the different types of maple trees.

The number of lobes varies between species, usually from 3 – 5 in most North American species and often 5 – 9 in many Asian species. Rarely can maples have up to 11 lobes.

The depth of the lobes also varies significantly and fairly reliably between species and is a very useful identification tool. Some lobes are shallowly cut, while others cut very deeply, a few can cut so deep they almost appear compound.

Leaf Shape - 6 Square - palmate leaf morphology - Acer
Images by Lyrae Willis – Own Work, for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Maple Trees by Their Compound or Simple Leaves

Occasionally, maple trees can have compound leaves of usually three leaflets but anywhere from 5 – 9 in Box Elder. The presence of compound leaves with maple samaras will help identify those species.

Rarely are leaves simple (not compound) and unlobed. This, along with the presence of maple samaras, will quickly identify those species.

Compound vs Simple Leaves - 2 Square
Images by Lyrae Willis – Own Work, for Tree Vitalize

Compound leaflets and unlobed leaves can also be described by their leaf/leaflet shape, which is typically elliptic (widest in the middle and narrowing on both ends), ovate (egg-shaped, widest at the base), or oblong (elongated parallel sides and mostly rounded or obtuse on both ends), or some combination of the two.

Leaf Shape - 3 Square - elliptic oblong ovate
Images by Lyrae Willis – Own Work, for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Maple Trees by Their Leaf Margins

Maple leaves are often serrated with sharp, jagged saw-like teeth. The teeth can be very small or fine, or often they are widely spaced and large.

Sometimes they are double-serrated, where the teeth have teeth of their own.

Sometimes the teeth are almost crenate (rounded-toothed, smooth, not jagged or sharp) or crenate-serrate, where they are somewhere in between.

In many maples, the teeth become so large they are often referred to as lobules meaning small lobes. A lobule is different from a lobe because a lobule is a projection of a lobe rather than a stand-alone feature. Another way to look at it is that in palmate leaves, a lobe typically has a main vein running to it, while a lobule typically does not.

The distinction between a large tooth and a lobule is a bit more subjective but follows a 25% rule. If the distance it cuts is more than ¼ of the distance to the midvein, it is a lobule. If the tooth cuts less than ¼ of the distance to the midvein, it is a large tooth.

Occasionally maple leaf margins are entire, without any teeth at all.

Leaf Margins - 6 Square - crenate doubleserrate largetooth lobule entire serrate
Images by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Maple Trees by Their Leaf, Lobe, Lobule, or Leaflet Tip (Apex)

The tips of the lobes, lobules, leaves, or leaflets of maples are usually acuminate (narrowing to a narrow-angled point) that may be somewhat short to very long and fine, which could be described as caudate, having a long tail-like appendage on their already long-pointy tip.

Tips are also often acute (the two sides meet at an angle of less than 90°) or blunt.

Blunt tips are typically obtuse (the two sides meet at an angle greater than 90°) or somewhere between obtuse and rounded. Sometimes they are quite round, but it tends to vary on the same tree or even the same leaf, so it is usually just described as blunt.

Leaf Apex - 4 Square - acuminate acute blunt caudate
Images by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Maple Trees by Their Leaf Surface Features

Maples are often described by their leaf color, which can be very light to very dark green. Often, leaves have a lighter color on the lower side than they do on the upper surface. Some have silvery-white lower surfaces.

Other times leaves can be described as dull (could still be bright in color, this just describes a matt surface) or glossy.

Some maples have pubescent (short and soft hairy) to hispid (like pubescent but stiff, rough to touch) leaves or other surfaces that can be used to help identify them. Sometimes hairs are found on the entire leaf surface, or others only along the veins.

Sometimes leaves or samaras can be glaucous, having an epicuticular waxy coating that gives it a dull blue-green appearance but that easily rubs off.

Surfaces - 4 Square - glaucous glossy hispid pubescent
Images by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Maple Trees by Their Leaf Venation

Venation describes the pattern of veins seen on the leaf surfaces.

Most maple trees have palmate venation, where several main veins radiate away from a central point. In maples, that point is where the petiole (leaf stalk) attaches.

Rarely can they have pinnate venation, where there is one main vein with numerous secondary veins that radiate toward the margins. Sometimes the pinnate veins are deeply indented, giving the entire leaf surface a corrugated appearance.

Venation - 2 Square - palmate pinnate
Images by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Maple Trees by Their Flowers

Maple flowers tend to appear in late winter or early spring, depending on the species and location, and they usually appear before or with the emergence of the leaves.

Their flowers are mostly small and inconspicuous, arranged in short, compact inflorescences (groups of flowers) or on somewhat longer pendulous racemes. They are often quite high on the trees. Because of these reasons, they are not often used in identification by the average person.

Maples can be monoecious, having separate male and female flowers on the same tree, or sometimes they are polygamodioecous, having male and bisexual or female and bisexual flowers on the same tree. Rarely are they dioecious, having separate male and female flowers on separate trees.

Maple Flowers - 2 Square - rubrum negundo
Images by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Maple Trees by Their Fruits (Samaras)

Maple fruits are a pair of fused and winged nutlets known as samaras. Or, as the kids call them, “helicopters” because of how they spin when they drop to the ground.

Samaras vary in size and color, but also by the spread angle between the two fused nutlets. They can be fused at less than 90° (acute), at 90°, greater than 90° (obtuse), or at 180° where they lay horizontally. The degree of the fusion angle is a very useful tool in identifying the different types of maple trees.

The color of samaras can also vary between species. Some samaras also have hairy or glaucous nutlets, while others do not. This can also help identify the different species.

Fruits - 2 Square - maple samaras
Images by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Maple Trees by Their Bark

Most maple bark is gray to brown and is smooth when young but develops vertical grooves or furrows as it matures.

Some bark develops horizontal and vertical grooves creating rectangular plates that may or may not become scaly and exfoliating.

Other bark develops grooves that crisscross or interlace with each other, creating diamond or V-shaped grooves.

Rarely can the bark be striped with different colors.

Also, rarely, the bark is thin and exfoliating in irregular papery strips.

The color of the bark and the type of furrowing can be used to help identify the different types of maple trees.

Bark - 6 Square - diamondgrooved exfoliatingpapery grooved scalyplates smooth striped - maples
Images by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Growing Maple Trees in Your Garden

Maple trees are a fantastic addition to any garden. They provide great shade in the summer, and some of the most spectacular fall color displays there are.

If you want to plant a maple tree or any tree, always research first to ensure success.

In addition to understanding the USA Planting Zones, you should check your tree’s specific soil, light, and moisture requirements, then compare that to your chosen site. Check out How to Pick A Tree For Your Yard for more information.

The Majestic Maple

Maples are such majestic and beautiful trees enjoyed by people and wildlife alike. They provide us with shade, fall color, maple syrup, hardwood lumber, leaf mulch for our gardens, and of course, aesthetic appeal. They also provide essential food and shelter for so many different species of wildlife, insects, and epiphytes.

If you are looking to plant a tree then maple is a perfect choice. Be sure to take into account your planting site as well as the characteristics of the different species to find the most suitable one.

It is always best to try to plant ones native to your area. They provide better wildlife and biodiversity values and there is no risk of them becoming invasive. Finally, and importantly, if you choose the right tree for the right spot a native tree should require no maintenance once established because they already know how to grow where you are.

I hope that this article has helped you learn some of the basics of how to identify the different species of maples. Now you can head out to the forest, or your nearest park, and start practicing your new skills.

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Lyrae Willis

Environmental Scientist & Plant Ecologist

Lyrae grew up in the forests of BC, Canada, where she got a BSc. in Environmental Sciences. Her whole life, she has loved studying plants, from the tiniest flowers to the most massive trees. She is currently researching native plants of North America and spends her time traveling, hiking, documenting, and writing. When not researching, she is homeschooling her brilliant autistic son, who travels with her and benefits from a unique hands-on education about the environment around him.

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