Description & Overview

Silver Maple is naturally found in riparian areas, along streams, rivers, and in the moist soil of lowlands. This is an easy tree to identify, with bark that peels in long thick flaky plates, and classic maple leaves but with deeper sinuses and silvery undersides. As a fast grower with nice fall color, sweeping, sprawling branching and intricate leaves it was once a very popular urban tree. Now, with a faster growth rate, love of wet soils, and prolific reproductive prowess, Silver Maple is a nice choice for restoration in riparian areas.

You may also know this tree as Soft Maple, River Maple, Swamp Maple, or Silverleaf Maple.

Core Characteristics

Category: Tree

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 50-80 feet

Mature Spread: 50-80 feet

Growth Rate: Fast

Growth Form: Tree

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Average to moist soil. Tolerant of clay and alkaline soil, as well as acidic soil.

Flower: Greenish

Bloom Period: March

Foliage: Green

Fall Color: Yellow

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Samara

Suggested Uses

When sited correctly, Silver Maple is a beautiful tree with a lot to give. If sited incorrectly it can cause some serious issues and become a case of, “right tree, wrong location.” Plainly stated, Silver Maple needs to be planted in an open area, well away from any structure. Its soft wood can lead to broken branches, and its shallow, aggressive root system can buckle cement. Silver Maple was a very popular landscape choice once upon a time but is no longer used nearly as often for these reasons. That said, it is a great choice in certain, specific circumstances. Stay with us while we make a case for a tree that’s a bit like a song that was overplayed on the radio back in the day. You might be sick of that song, but it was overplayed for a reason!

Restoration/Naturalization: The absolute best scenario in which to use this tree would be for the restoration of a riparian habitat or low, moist area. If you have an area overgrown with invasive plants or an area denuded by construction, then Silver Maple would be an excellent option. It is very tolerant, nay, thrives in wet soil, and even tolerates occasional flooding. It spreads freely and grows quickly, which is a fine trait for a tree planted in an area that needs to be filled in. The roots spread aggressively, preventing erosion and, over time, out-competing aggressive exotics that would threaten the success of the restoration project.

Silver Maple is naturally found in riparian areas, along streams, rivers, and in the moist soil of lowlands. This is an easy tree to identify, with ba…
Silver Maple is naturally found in riparian areas, along streams, rivers, and in the moist soil of lowlands. This is an easy tree to identify, with ba…

Wildlife Value

Silver Maple provides habitat, shade, food, and shelter for all kinds of wildlife.

The buds break in late winter/early spring at a time when wildlife, most notably, squirrels, are low on stored food. Early buds are a literal lifesaver. Deer and rabbits also feed on buds and twigs.

This is also one of the earliest maples to flower, providing pollen to bees at a time when they too are running desperately low on supply. The seeds (samaras) are eaten by squirrels, game birds, songbirds, and other small mammals. Silver Maple is also the larval host to the Imperial Moth, a species in great decline and not often seen in Wisconsin.

The tree itself provides shelter to any who can climb or fly. Old tree trunks tend to hollow out, providing vital habitat for cavity nesters like raccoons, squirrels, Screech Owls, songbirds, and the beautiful Wood Duck.

Maintenance Tips

Silver Maple branches tend to break in high wind and under the weight of ice. This is not only due to soft wood, but also because of the tree’s natural branching structure. While young, Silver Maple could benefit from being pruned in a way that would strengthen its crotch angles. Regardless, it is simply best to plant this tree away from anything that could be damaged by falling branches.

Mature bark can peel off in long thick rectangular pieces. Some say this is “messy,” however, its less commonly thought of as an “issue.”

Silver Maple produces an abundance of samaras, possibly the most of any maple. Again, this rarely causes issues, but we can understand if this is a deal breaker for some. If planted for its benefit to wildlife, its numerous samaras should be considered a big plus!

Silver Maple roots grow close to the surface and some may even be visible. This could make mowing the lawn difficult as you would not want to damage exposed roots.

We invite you to check out the Arborist For Hire lookup at the Wisconsin Arborist Association website to find an ISA Certified Arborist near you.

Silver Maple is naturally found in riparian areas, along streams, rivers, and in the moist soil of lowlands. This is an easy tree to identify, with ba…
Silver Maple is naturally found in riparian areas, along streams, rivers, and in the moist soil of lowlands. This is an easy tree to identify, with ba…

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: No
Rabbit Resistant: No

A stressed tree is more susceptible to Verticillium Wilt, Anthracnose, and Canker, as well as numerous damaging insects such as aphids, borers, and scale. Minimize stress by siting properly and providing appropriate care after planting. This would involve providing supplemental water while the tree is establishing its roots, protecting young stems and buds from being foraged by deer, and preventing buck rub by protecting the trunk. As with any new tree, providing bark mulch will insulate roots from cold and heat, and lock in moisture. A mulch ring also prevents one from mowing too close to the trunk and causing wounds.

As previously mentioned, because Silver Maple is a fast-growing tree, its wood and branches are soft and brittle. Ice, snow, and high winds can cause breakage. Do not plant near structures or power lines.

Shallow, aggressive roots can damage sidewalks, driveways, foundations, and sewage pipes.

Leaf Lore

The common name “Silver Maple” is in reference to the silver/grey underside of the leaves which are noticeable when they move in the breeze.

This tree is sometimes use in Bonsai!

Silver Maple can be tapped for its sap to make maple syrup. The scientific name Acer saccharinum refers to its sugary sap, though, truth be told, our native Sugar Maple does have it beat in terms of sugar concentration.

The wood is used as lumber, for furniture, firewood, and pulp.

Native Americans used twigs to make black dye

Silver Maples can live 130+ years during which time they can reach 100+ feet in height and 3+ feet in diameter! One of the largest Silver Maples can be found at the Hillcrest Country Club in Lincoln, New Hampshire, measuring 26′ in diameter and 76′ tall. Learn more about the thickest, tallest, and oldest Silver Maples.

Companion Plants

Silver Maple is found in natural riparian areas alongside Sweetgum, Pin Oak, Swamp White Oak, Eastern Cottonwood, American Sycamore.

The understory in these areas consists of Willow, Scarlet Elderberry, Redosier Dogwood, Cardinal Flower, Spotted Joe-Pye Weed, and Swamp Milkweed.

Other companions found in wet soils could include Paper Birch, Sweet Birch, Yellow Birch, Canadian Hemlock, Bur Oak, American Elderberry, Common Witchhazel, and Musclewood.

Silver Maple is naturally found in riparian areas, along streams, rivers, and in the moist soil of lowlands. This is an easy tree to identify, with ba…
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Written by Julia Feltes