How the Norway Maple Got to America


The Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is a large, deciduous tree that can grow up to 100 feet tall.

It is characterized by its dense, rounded crown and tolerance of poor, compacted soils.

While the tree is native to Europe and parts of Asia, it has become naturalized across much of northeastern North America after being introduced as an ornamental tree.

But how exactly did the Norway maple make its way from Europe to North America?

How the Norway Maple Got to America

Key Takeaways:

  • The Norway maple is native to Europe but has become naturalized across much of northeastern North America after being introduced as an ornamental tree.
  • John Bartram first imported the Norway maple from England to his botanic garden in Philadelphia in 1756. He then offered it for sale through his nursery catalog starting in 1760.
  • Over the next 150 years, the Norway maple grew in popularity as a hardy street and park tree, especially as a replacement for elms killed by Dutch elm disease starting in the 1930s.
  • The Norway maple was able to spread beyond intentional planting due to its prolific seed production, efficient wind dispersal, and caching of seeds by animals. It is now considered invasive in many parts of its introduced range.
  • The Norway maple has an important legacy and continues to provide benefits such as shade, but its uncontrolled spread highlights the need to anticipate how introduced species may naturalize.

Early History and Cultivation

The Norway maple is native to continental Europe from Norway to Romania where it grows in mountainous regions up to 1500 m elevation.

The first known cultivation of the tree was in Central Europe, likely in Germany, in the 1600s.

By 1683, the Norway maple was being grown in England.

The famous gardener and botanist John Evelyn wrote about the tree in his book “Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty’s Dominions” published in 1664.

In the book, Evelyn recommended the Norway maple as an ornamental shade tree.

For most of the 1700s, the Norway maple remained largely a novelty tree in English gardens and estates.

Occasionally trees were planted at farms, churches or along streets, but it was not widely propagated.

Introduction to North America

In 1756, the prominent botanist John Bartram imported Norway maple trees from England to his botanic garden in Philadelphia, becoming one of the first people to introduce the species into North America.

John Bartram was born in 1699 near Philadelphia.

He created one of the most impressive gardens in British America, collecting and propagating many native and introduced plant species.

Bartram shared seeds and cuttings widely with fellow gardeners and botanists. He also started one of the first nurseries in North America.

In 1760, just a few years after bringing Norway maples to his garden, Bartram began selling the trees through his nursery catalog.

This allowed Norway maple to spread beyond the gardens of only the wealthiest estates to more small farms, businesses and yards.

Rise in Popularity

Over the next 150 years, Norway maple continued to grow in popularity across North America.

The trees were prized for their hardy nature, pollution tolerance, dense shade, and striking yellow fall color.

By the early 20th century, Norway maple was a very common street and park tree in cities from the East Coast through the Midwest.

Its fast growth allowed it to quickly form shady canopies over urban streets.

The rise of the Norway maple was further fueled by the devastating loss of American elm trees starting in the 1930s.

Dutch elm disease, an introduced fungus, killed millions of native elms that once lined city streets.

Norway maple was one of the most common replacements in urban tree planting efforts over the next few decades.

Naturalization across North America

Norway maple’s prevalence in urban and suburban areas allowed it to spread beyond intentional plantings.

Norway maple can reproduce prolifically from seed. Heavy seed production combined with efficient wind-dispersal of winged seeds enabled the tree to colonize disturbed areas.

Birds and squirrels that cache the tree’s seeds further aided its spread.

By the 1950s Norway maple was noted as naturalizing and reproducing widely across eastern North America.

Today it is considered invasive in many areas including the northeastern U.S, southeastern Canada, and parts of the Pacific Northwest.

Dense Norway maple thickets crowd out many native plants.

Legacy

While it had great benefits and filled an important need for a sturdy city tree, Norway maple has also caused unforeseen environmental disruption.

Its story underscores the importance of anticipating how introduced species may spread uncontrolled.

Despite these problems, Norway maple retains a long legacy in North America that dates back to John Bartram’s first importation of the tree in 1756.

The Norway maple continues to provide shade and fall color in many neighborhoods across the continent.

Before You Go

If your looking to buy shrubs or trees online, I highly recommend Nature Hills. They always have sales and discounts on nursery stock, well worth your time checking them out.

You can find them here, NatureHills.com.

Also, I have other articles about Norway maple trees you can check out if your interested.

I’ll leave links to them below.

Norway Maple Facts: Top 8

Pros and Cons of Planting Norway Maple Trees

Are There Different Types Of Norway Maples

What Are Norway Maple Look Alikes

Norway Maple Tree Diseases

Norway Maple Problems: Important Info Before Planting

Why is the Norway Maple Invasive

Blog Musings