Maple (Acer sp.)
There are over a dozen species and hundred of cultivars of maple trees in this family of familiar shade trees. While they may vary in habit, rate of growth, size and leaf character, this group of Maples represent some of the best shade trees available for residential yards, gardens, and city streets. Although maples grow all over the United States, some are better suited to certain areas than others so keep an eye on the zone ranges for each species.
The smaller maples include the Amur, Paperbark, and Hedge Maples. The Norway Maple is sort of medium sized tree, while the Red, Silver, and Sugar Maples represent the big guys in town sometimes reaching 100 feet tall in good situations.
Maple flowers are small, 1/5th to 1/2 inch long, with five tiny petals. On some maples the female flowers are bright red and the male ones are yellowish to silver. On others the flowers are all a pale yellow-green. Flowers of the maple give way to clusters of greenish to bright red winged seeds, from 3/4 to 1 1/4 inch long, which appear when the leaves emerge. They turn light brown over the summer. Those of the sugar maple turn brown in September. For some of us, the seeds are more memorable. As a child you may remember splitting the winged seed and attaching it to end of your nose. Cool stuff for a six year old. Not always a positive, those zillions of winged seeds have enough stored energy to take root in a merely a thick layer of partially decomposed leaves, they spread easily.
In most cases, the real reason for selecting a Maple tree for your yard is the fall color it will offer. Some Maples feature brilliant reds while others will give you a spectacular yellow, and a few will give you several colors from red, through orange, to yellow all on the same tree. Here you want to be careful to determine from your garden center, exactly which colors you can expect so you know if it fits your preferences. Many of the Maples will not display their normal colors when growing outside their preferred zone range.
Some Maple species have dozens of cultivars available in the marketplace which can be intimidating when reading up on a species in a book like this one. However, in most cases, your local garden center or nursery have selected only the best cultivars for your particular area, easing some of the burden of making a good choice.