Description & Overview

Mountain Maple is a small, hardy, understory tree native to Northern Wisconsin that is often found in woodlands, along streams, rivers, lakes, and on rocky, northern-facing slopes. Small white flowers appear on spikey racemes in spring, followed by red samaras and then in autumn, outstanding fall color that ranges from clear yellow to bright orange to scarlet red. The leaves can be differentiated from most other maples’ by their shallow lobes of which there are only three, as opposed to five lobes on most other maples.

You may also know this tree as Moose Maple, Low Maple, and Moosewood.

Core Characteristics

Category: Tree

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 10-30 feet

Mature Spread: 10-30 feet

Growth Rate: Slow

Growth Form: Rounded, Shrub-like

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Acidic, moist, well-drained

Flower: Green-yellow, small.

Bloom Period: May, June

Foliage: Dark Green

Fall Color: Yellow-Orange-Red

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Samara

Suggested Uses

Mountain Maple is naturally found in northern Wisconsin where the soil is moist, loamy, cool, and acidic. It can, however, adapt to clay and may do well in southern Wisconsin if it is sited in an area with cool, moist soil.

Restoration and Erosion Control: Mountain Maple is often found along rivers and stream banks. When left to do their thing they can grow an extensive, shallow root system. The ends of stems are capable of putting down roots when they come in contact with the ground. These new roots can send up shoots, creating a thicket along the stream providing erosion control, shade, shelter, and food for wildlife. Mountain Maple has been observed to grow aggressively in disturbed forests in Door County, covering bare ground and providing shelter and food for wildlife.
Landscaping: Mountain Maple sports small, white-flowered racemes in the spring, classic maple leaves and shade in the summer, as well as stunning fall color. It tends to grow in a multi-stem form that rarely reaches 30 feet tall, especially when browsed by deer, so unless it is protected then do not expect it to have a classic maple tree shape. Mountain Maple is a great choice for a homeowner looking for a natural-looking, native, flowering multi-stem tree.

Mountain Maple is a small, hardy, understory tree native to Northern Wisconsin that is often found in woodlands, along streams, rivers, lakes, and on …
Mountain Maple is a small, hardy, understory tree native to Northern Wisconsin that is often found in woodlands, along streams, rivers, lakes, and on …

Wildlife Value

Mountain Maple provides many benefits for wildlife.

Mammals: The bark is preferred by White-tailed Deer, beaver, rabbits, and moose. So much so that the tree is also called Moosewood or Moose Maple. When browsed, Mountain Maple grows back with renewed vigor. This has a two-fold benefit of keeping the tree small so that the more plentiful, palatable young shoots can be reached by the animals who feed on it. Due to its renewed growth after pruning/browsing it is considered deer resistant.
Gamebirds: Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, and pheasant eat the buds in late winter and are grateful for it at a time of year when there may be little else. Seeds are eaten by deer and birds alike.

Mountain Maple relies on bees for pollination. Most, but not all, flowers are either male or female. The bees are the mechanism that brings male and female parts together for proper pollination. Honeybees make honey from the nectar that tastes very similar to that of clover.

Many types of beneficial beetles including Soldier, Long-horned, Flower Longhorn, Click, and Rove Beetles will make use of Mountain Maple.

Mountain Maple is often found in riparian habitats where it prevents erosion and provides food and habitat for many species. Shade by a stream also has benefits for underwater creatures. Water kept cool by shade holds more oxygen which can even have an impact on reproduction rates of certain species of fish. Fallen leaves provide nutrients to aquatic species. Prevention of erosion controls the release of sediment into the water which keeps the water clean for its inhabitants. Trees in riparian areas provide benefits for the entire ecosystem in a big way!

Maintenance Tips

In a landscape setting Mountain Maple may need to be protected from deer damage. Use deer fencing in the fall and winter months to prevent deer from browsing and scraping buds, stems, and trunks. Learn more about Deer Protection, Buck Rub & Resistant Plants.

As stated above, this tree can propagate by putting down roots at the end of the stems. Prune in late winter/ early spring to maintain form.

Mountain Maple is a small, hardy, understory tree native to Northern Wisconsin that is often found in woodlands, along streams, rivers, lakes, and on …

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: Yes
Rabbit Resistant: Yes

When siting, remember that this tree needs cool, moist soil. Planting Mountain Maple in the middle of a sunny field will not result in success. Use mulch to keep the roots cool.

Leaf Lore

The specific epithet spicatum means “spiked” in reference to the raceme of white flowers. Mountain Maple has no true spikes.

Native Americans made tea from the stems and twigs to treat eyes irritated by smoke. Stems and twigs were also used to make arrows.

The tannins from the bark can be used to tan leather.

As with many species from the genus Acer, the sap can be tapped to make maple syrup. Maple sap flows best on warm sunny days after a cold night. Trees on southern slopes have higher yields. The sap can also be drunk straight and tastes like a light, sweet water.

The largest Mountain Maple in the United States is in Smyth County, Virginia, measuring 42 feet high with a spread of 28 feet and a trunk that is 18 inches in circumference.

This tree is often mistaken for Striped Maple as they do have some similar characteristics. The leaves are similar but the serration on Mountain Maple leaves is more pronounced. The stems of Mountain Maple leaves are red. Striped Maple has obvious green and grey striped bark that dulls with maturity while the Mountain Maple has smooth grey-brown bark when young that matures to a bumpier texture in maturity. Mountain Maple samaras bend at almost 90-degree angles. Despite the differences, both share a common name Moosewood.

Companion Plants

In its native range, Mountain Maple can be found under or alongside other woodland species Sugar Maple, Red Maple, Balsam Fir, Yellow Birch, Striped Maple, Basswood, Red Pine, Eastern White Pine, Red Oak, Showy Mountainash, Speckled Alder, and Redosier Dogwood.

These plants work well underneath Mountain Maple as they all share similar soil requirements: Spikenard, Eastern Wahoo, Wild Geranium, Canada Wild Ginger, Pennsylvania Sedge, Lady Fern, Ostrich Fern, or any of the native Solomon’s Seal.

Mountain Maple is a small, hardy, understory tree native to Northern Wisconsin that is often found in woodlands, along streams, rivers, lakes, and on …
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Written by Julia Feltes