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Striped Maple Tree Information – Facts About The Striped Maple Tree

Striped Maple Tree Information – Facts About The Striped Maple Tree


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By: Teo Spengler

Striped maple trees (Acer pensylvanicum) are also known as “snakebark maple”. But don’t let this scare you away. Other species of snakebark maple exist, but Acer pensylvanicum is the only one native to the continent. For more striped maple tree information and tips for striped maple tree cultivation, read on.

Striped Maple Tree Information

Not all maples are soaring, graceful trees with snow-white bark. According to striped maple tree information, this tree is a shrubby, understory maple. It can be grown as a large shrub or a small tree. You’ll find this maple in the wild from Wisconsin to Quebec, from the Appalachians into Georgia. It is native to the rocky forests in this range.

These trees usually grow from 15 to 25 feet (4.5 to 7.5 m.) tall, although some specimens get to 40 feet (12 m.) tall. The canopy is rounded and sometimes the very top is flattened. The tree is much loved because of the unusual and interesting trunk. Striped maple tree bark is green with vertical white striping. The stripes sometimes fade as the tree matures, and the striped maple tree bark turns reddish brown.

Additional facts about striped maple trees include their leaves which can grow quite long, up to 7 inches (18 cm.). Each one has three lobes and looks a little like a goose foot. The leaves grow in pale green with pink overtones, but turn a deep green by summer’s end. Expect another color change in autumn when the foliage turns canary yellow.

In May, you’ll see drooping racemes of tiny yellow flowers. These are followed by winged seed pods as summer passes. You can use the seeds for striped maple tree cultivation.

Striped Maple Tree Cultivation

If you are thinking of planting striped maple trees, they grow best in shaded areas or woodland gardens. As is typical with understory trees, striped maple trees prefer a shady location and cannot grow in full sun.

Striped maple tree cultivation is easiest in well-drained soil. The soil need not be rich, but the trees thrive in moist soils that are slightly acidic.

One good reason for planting striped maple trees is to benefit local wildlife. This tree serves an important role as a browse plant for wildlife. Planting striped maple trees results in food for various animals, including red squirrels, porcupines, white-tailed deer, and ruffed grouse.

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Striped Maple Tree Cultivation: Planting Striped Maple Trees In The Landscape - garden

Soil Moisture Niche =Moist-Dry, Acidic Sites

Vertical Preference =Understory

Like all other maples, striped and mountain maples have opposite leaves with lobes. Striped maple leaves have three distinct lobes that make them look like goose feet. In fact, many folks call the tree goose foot maple. The leaf lobes have fine teeth. Mountain maple leaves have three to five lobes and the lobes have coarse teeth. Young striped maple bark is striped, hence the name. Mountain maple bark is stripeless. Striped maple is usually taller than mountain maple, venturing into the subcanopy on favorable sites. Mountain maple is as often shrub size as it is tree size.

Mountain maple might be confused with young red maples. This will only be a problem in the high elevation zone where the two trees overlap. Young mountain maple twigs are slightly fuzzy while those of red maple lack fuzz.

Striped maple is more widespread in the Park than mountain maple. It is most abundant in the middle elevation zone along streams, especially in the classic cove hardwood forest, but it also ventures on to protected slopes. Here it is found in the mixed oak-hickory-red maple forest and the northern red oak-hickory-red maple forest. Striped maple becomes sparse above 5000 feet.

On the other hand, mountain maple loves the high elevation zone, occurring most abundantly in the red spruce-northern hardwood forest, the spruce-fir forest and the Fraser fir forest.


5 Amazing Small Maple Trees

I love Japanese maples (Acer palmatum), but the Fullmoon maple (Acer shirasawanum, zones 5 to 9) ups the ante with leaves that have up to 13 lobes. This small maple grows 15 to 30 feet tall and wide, and prefers at least light shade, if not full shade. The cultivar 'Aureum' (shown) is a standout, with spectacular gold foliage. (Yet another gold foliage plant for shade!) It turns gorgeous shades of red and gold in fall.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Abrahami

Maples aren't known for just great foliage. Even better than snakebark maple, paperbark maple (Acer griseum, zones 4 to 8) is another small tree with terrific cinnamon-color peeling bark — an eye-catching feature even in winter. During the growing season, it contrasts perfectly with deep green leaves. Paperbark maple grows to 25 feet high and wide, and is happy in full sun to part shade.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Sten

Pacific Northwesterners will be familiar with their native vine maple (Acer circinatum, zones 6 to 9), which grows as well in other parts of the country in well-drained soil with afternoon shade. This little maple grows 20 to 30 feet tall and wide (sometimes more in its home range), and I'm particularly interested to try some newer cultivars with purple leaves, like Pacific Purple.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Walter Siegmund

Looking for all the world like a maple-holly hybrid, evergreen or Cretan maple (Acer sempervirens) hails from Greece, and being a Mediterranean plant, it thrives in climates with damp winters and droughty summers, as well as poor soil. It also has incredibly glossy, evergreen to semievergreen foliage, and it's cold hardy as far north as zone 6. I suspect this uncommon maple's hardiness is a bit untested in regions with humid summers — if you live east of the Mississippi and want to try it, I suggest planting it in a dry spot with lots of sun and lean, fast-draining soil. It grows to roughly 30 feet tall.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Abrahami


Silver maples are usually found along streams and rivers in Pennsylvania and reach about 60 feet in height. Leaves of the silver maple also have five lobes, but there are deep spaces between each lobe.

The striped maple is the shorty of the group, only growing between 10 and 25 feet tall. Its leaves have three lobes, with a rounded bottom and very muted teeth. These trees are commonly found in the mountainous parts of in Pennsylvania in predominantly cool and shady areas.

  • Red maples grow throughout the Keystone State and typically reach about 50 feet high.
  • Leaves of the silver maple also have five lobes, but there are deep spaces between each lobe.

Striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum)

A beautiful small flowering tree for shady landscapes, providing food and habitat to birds and pollinators. Native to the forest understory of eastern North America, favoring cool, moist ravines and slopes requires moisture and full to partial shade in gardens.

Drawing by Landere Naisbitt

Maples are among the easiest trees for people to learn to identify. There are seven maple species in New England, thirteen species throughout North America, and approximately one hundred twenty-five maple species worldwide. Most of New England’s maples are recognizable by the shapes of their leaves and individual species are distinguished by the number and contours of the spaces (sinuses) between the leaf lobes. Leaf color helps identify the maples, as well. Who hasn’t seen the scarlet flare of a red maple (Acer rubrum) in a wetland in late August and thought, ruefully, that summer is waning and autumn is imminent? Maple leaves define autumn in the northern states. In The Tree , Colin Tudge writes, “the maples are the pièce de résistance in the glorious autumn colors of New England, one of the greatest natural shows on earth.” [i]

However, only one of New England’s maples, the striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum), is identifiable by its bark alone. In eastern coastal Maine, striped maples, the second smallest maple in the Northeast, are not overly abundant and rarely do they reach maturity in the wild, without mishap. But where soils and hydrology suit (cool, moist, forested north-facing slopes of granitic drift) striped maples can grow thirty feet or more, taller than their companion understory trees, the mountain maple (Acer spicatum). Striped maples, even in ideal habitats, have open crowns and are relatively short-lived. They are slender, narrowly branched trees, befitting their preference for shade beneath the forest canopy.

Most of the striped maples encountered in Maine have diameters smaller than five or six inches. Many have multiple trunks, evidence of wildlife browsing. Often there are long scars and tattered peelings on the trees’ trunks, signs that bucks have scraped their antlers against the striped maples’ obligingly smooth bark. Two of the other common names for striped maple are apt: moosewood and moose maple.

Drawing by Landere Naisbitt

But young, old, scarred or unscathed, there is one unmistakable characteristic of the striped maple: glabrous, unfurrowed, and striated bark. The stripes are generally white against green but can also be deep green, even black, against reddish-green. Bill Cullina in Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines [ii] describes the stripes as “serpentine” and striped maple is, indeed, one of the so-called snakebark maples, more commonly found in Asia.

Snakebark maples belong to a botanically and geophysically interesting group, or clade, of the widely distributed maple family. The snakebark maples have only one representative in North America, Acer pensylvanicum, while fourteen species are found in Asia, the greatest diversity of all the maples found on that continent.

In the eighteenth century, European botanists who travelled both to eastern North America and to eastern Asia (or studied the herbaria of other botanical explorers) noticed similarities between the flora of these two disparate geographic regions. It was in 1750 that the theory of disjunction was introduced by Jonas P. Halenius (but probably written by his teacher, Carl Linnaeus [1707-1778]). [iii] In 1818 phytogeography and disjunct plants were described in Genera of North American Plants by Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859). Disjunction was often the subject of the correspondence between the American botanist Asa Gray (1810-1885) and Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Gray was the evolutionist’s champion in America. And, significantly, he used fossil evidence [iv] as he sought to reconcile the floristic semblances between two far-flung geographies, bridging time and distance while buttressing the new science of evolution. The phytogeographers are honored in many American plant names, but it was Carl Linnaeus, the author of modern scientific classification, who named Acer pensylvanicum and misspelled the second (species) designation.

Acer pensylvanicum was one of many New World species sent to England by the Philadelphia farmer, naturalist and explorer John Bartram (1699-1777). Bartram wandered from Lake Ontario to Florida, searching for plants to send to an avid British horticultural market. Bartram collected seeds and seedlings, tubers and roots, which were cumbrously (and perilously) transported to his London agent, and fellow Quaker, Peter Collinson (1694-1768). The fraught Atlantic crossings, and delays in recompense (including disruptions and wholesale losses while the French preyed upon English ships and their cargoes during the French and Indian Wars from 1689-1763) nearly bankrupted Bartram. But the popularity of his exported discoveries, the beauty and novelty of American flora eventually transformed British gardening. Since many of Bartram’s specimens, like the striped maple, comprised the Eastern American forest or its understory, a naturalistic style evolved to accommodate the needs of these woodlanders. Acer pensylvanicum is still a prized landscape specimen in British gardens, along with its Asian snakebark cousins.

At any time of year the striped maple has a distinctive beauty. The tree’s colors are varied and arresting. In winter, bright crimson buds sit like finials on blood-red twigs. The younger bark on striped maples has white or green squiggles of varying lengths. Trees can also be red with black or dark green stripes seedlings can be unstriped red, burgundy, deep green or black. Stripes become more conspicuous when trunk diameters reach a few inches. Mature striped maples may have a greyish bark, “warty” according to Sibley’s Guide to Trees , [v] with striping confined to younger branches and limbs. The smooth bark can photosynthesize in winter.

The leaves of striped maples are the largest of any of the maple family, seven inches across at the base, nearly twice the size of the leaves of sugar maples. The leaves are long-stalked, palmately compound with three to five finely-toothed lobes. The striped maple’s distinctive leaf shape accounts for another of its common names, goose-foot maple. The summer green is one of the forest’s purest colors fall color is clear yellow, indicating an absence of the chemical anthocyanin that transforms most other maple leaves into a festival of reds and oranges.

Drawing by Landere Naisbitt

In spring when striped maples are nearly in full leaf, bright yellow bell-shaped flowers appear on long, pendulous racemes. The flower stalks of mountain maples also materialize after the leaves have matured, but these flower clusters are upright, held above the tiers of foliage. Comparison between these species is easy because the two are often forest companions, preferring the same habitat of cool, moist, acidic woods.

Striped maple fruits, called samaras, are ripe in late summer or early fall. Chains of these winged seeds dangle fetchingly beneath the outsized leaves. Most trees of the temperate forest depend upon wind for pollination, though insects may still visit for nectar or pollen. Striped maples are predominantly male trees, that is, their flowers are male. But the species exhibits sexual dimorphism or plasticity. If changes occur in the canopy and new conditions seem favorable, trees can alter sex, bearing female flowers in a single generation. [vi] Sex choice or gender diphasy is also found in Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) another forest denizen listed among the American-Asian disjuncts.

Drawing by Landere Naisbitt

In the wild, striped maples suffer few pathogens or diseases perhaps because they are so habitat-specific and will not grow where stresses like strong sunlight or dry soil would create vulnerabilities. Even senescent, fallen or dead striped maples have few saprophytes the smooth bark discourages the attachment of fungi and mosses until there is advanced decay of the trunk. Predation by deer and moose cause the trees their greatest injuries. Wildlife, including rodents and grouse, eat striped maple seeds. Maples sustain a large number of arboreal lepidoptera (moths and butterflies). [vii]

Striped maples are singularly beautiful trees. They are among the most shade tolerant of all trees in the Northeast. They are naturally found in a rough triangle from New Brunswick to southern Ontario, down the Appalachians, dwindling in numbers through the mountains of North Carolina to the highest elevations of northern Georgia. Striped maple seeds germinate fairly well, though seed-collection requires shrewd competition with birds and squirrels.

The habitat requirements of striped maple trees are more limiting than other maples. Careful siting makes these beautiful trees garden-worthy in shady locations with cool moist soils and elsewhere, striped maples are worth searching for, to admire in their forest homes.


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