Description & Overview
Acer pensylvanicum, the Striped Maple, is a Wisconsin native understory tree known for the vertical white stripes which appear on younger bark. These stripes slowly fade with age, turning more reddish-brown before disappearing. Several other Acer species also have this stripped bark feature; however, Acer pensylvanicum is the only species of Striped Maple native to North America.
You may also know this tree as Snakebark Maple, Moosewood, Goosefoot Maple, and Whistlewood.
Striped Maple is a small-statured WI native understory tree great for shady sites. Don’t plant Striped Maple in the full sun as its roots like to be kept cool, and leaves may become sun-scorched. The #1 ornamental feature of Striped Maple is – you guessed it – its striped bark. It features long white or pale green vertical lines on younger bark and stems. As the tree matures, the bark turns reddish-brown as the vertical lines darken and may vanish over time. The dark green foliage turns into a nice lemony-yellow color.
Striped Maple would be right at home in a shady woodland garden or shaded portion of your landscape. Acer pensylvanicum is a valuable understory component when you are naturalizing your wooded landscape.
A plethora of wildlife will visit Striped Maple. The twigs, buds, and seeds are browsed by snowshoe hares, squirrels, porcupines, ruffed grouse, and chipmunks. Larger mammalian grazers, such as white-tailed deer and moose, browse on Striped Maple throughout winter.
The fact that Acer pensylvanicum is an understory tree is also beneficial to wildlife as it helps create vertical diversity within the forest. A forest canopy with multiple layers helps create a more balanced ecosystem. Birds like the black-throated blue warbler and black-billed cuckoo prefer to nest in sites that offer a dense understory layer.
Proper care for Acer pensylvanicum begins with appropriate siting. For starters, know that this plant doesn’t like full sun conditions. Striped Maple is a shade-loving plant that should be planted in a shady location. If you want to add this plant to your landscape, you would be better off planting Striped Maple in cultivated situations that parallel the native habitat. Striped Maple likes a cooler climate and wants moist, well-drained soil that’s slightly acidic and will receive minimal disturbances. Striped Maple likes a site with consistent moisture but be aware it’s not tolerant of overly wet soils – you won’t find it growing in marshes or boggy edges. You will typically find it growing naturally as an understory tree in rocky forests, mixed hardwood forests, mesic woodlands, and shaded, cool northern slopes of upland valleys. In the locations where you’ll find Striped Maple growing naturally – heat and drought are not common denominators.
You will run into more problems if improperly sited – leaf scorch will be present in full sun locations. Like all maples, Striped Maple is susceptible to verticillium wilt. You may encounter the more common ornamental diseases such as tar spot, powdery mildew, or canker. Thankfully, there aren’t any major insect pests that jeopardize the mortality of Striped Maple, although you may encounter aphids, scales, or mites.
Common names for plants can vary and often differ from region to region. Aside from Striped Maple and Snakebark Maple, other common names for Acer pensylvanicum include Moosewood, Goosefoot Maple, and Whistlewood. The leaves resemble the shape of a goosefoot giving it the common name of Goosefoot Maple. Moosewood refers to the fact that moose consume the bark in winter; the name Whistlewood stemmed from Native Americans who often carved whistles from its branches.
The specific epithet pensylvanicum means “of Pennsylvania,” which is where the species was first recorded and Latinized in 1753 by the father of taxonomy himself, Carl Linnaeus.
Seedlings or saplings of Acer pensylvanicum can easily be misidentified as Mountain Maple (Acer spicatum). They are a very similar species, although Mountain Maple does not have striped bark, so you are unlikely to confuse older individuals. If you’re attempting to tell the difference between the species at a young age, the foliage on Mountain Maple has slightly more coarse-toothed edges, which is another helpful way to distinguish the two.
Where Striped Maple is naturally found, the forest floor is often densely shaded, so the ground layer may be relatively sparse aside from Ferns or Sugar Maple seedlings. Although, if your timing is right, spring ephemerals such as Large White Trillium, Bloodroot, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Starflower, and Sharp-lobed Hepatica may be present.