Iowa Maples: Fall Color Kings of Hawkeye Woodlands


Iowa’s landscape is dotted with many beautiful tree species, including several types of maples. Maples are deciduous trees known for their striking fall foliage.

Iowa has a mix of native maple species as well as some that have been introduced over the years.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common maple trees found across Iowa.

1. Silver Maple

The silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is arguably the most abundant maple species in Iowa today. These large, fast-growing trees thrive in moist conditions along river bottoms, floodplains, and wetlands.

Silver maples have delicate, deeply lobed leaves with silvery undersides.

They put on a spectacular show in fall when their leaves turn a stunning yellow, orange, or red. Their bark is smooth and gray when young but becomes craggy and shaggy as it matures.

Silver maples are popular landscape trees, though their aggressive roots can sometimes cause problems. They also have a tendency to drop branches on calm days.

But with plenty of space, they make excellent shade trees.

Early settlers prized the rot-resistant timber of silver maples for uses like barn beams and fence posts. The sap can also be tapped to make maple syrup, though it has a lower sugar content than sugar maple sap.

2. Sugar Maple

The sugar maple (Acer saccharum) reaches the northern edge of its natural range in Iowa. It prefers the well-drained soils of upland hardwood forests versus floodplains.

Sugar maples are prized for their high-quality wood and delicious maple syrup. Their leaves have five lobes and turn vibrant shades of orange, red, and yellow in the fall.

The bark is grayish-brown with rough vertical ridges.

While sap from any maple can be tapped for syrup, sugar maple sap has the highest natural sugar content.

It takes about 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup! Sugar maple wood is renowned for furniture, flooring, musical instruments, and sports equipment like baseball bats and bowling pins.

3. Red Maple

Red maple (Acer rubrum) is another important native Iowa maple, though less common than the silver and sugar varieties. It thrives in wet settings like swamps and stream banks.

True to its name, the red maple sports vivid red flowers in early spring before its leaves emerge. The leaves have three or five lobes and turn brilliant shades of red and orange in fall.

Red maple wood is used for furniture, cabinets, musical instruments, and more.

4. Boxelder

Boxelder (Acer negundo) is a medium-sized, short-lived maple native to the understories of Iowa’s floodplain forests. It’s sometimes considered a “trash tree” due to its weedier growth form, but it provides important ecosystem services.

The compound leaves have 3-7 leaflets. Female boxelder trees produce winged fruits called samaras. Boxelders turn pale yellow in fall.

While boxelder wood is softer, it’s sometimes substituted for maple. Native Americans used boxelder for bows, furniture, and musical instruments.

Ornamental Maples

Beyond the native maples, you may also spot ornamental maple varieties like Norway maple (Acer platanoides) and Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) in Iowa landscapes.

Norway maples were introduced from Europe as a landscape tree. They have vigorously invaded some natural areas where they crowd out native plants.

Japanese maples are smaller ornamental varieties grown for their delicate foliage and graceful form.

The Beauty of Iowa Maples

From the mighty silver maple to the delicate Japanese maple, Iowa’s maple trees provide ample beauty and benefits to the state.

Their hardwoods supply lumber, syrup, and more while their leaves offer autumn spectacle.

Maples contribute to the diversity and splendor of Iowa’s woodlands and natural landscapes.

What Is The Most Common Maple Tree In Iowa?

The most common maple tree in Iowa is the silver maple.

It is a fast-growing floodplain tree with leaves that have a whitish underside. The silver maple was widely used by early settlers for planting in groves around their farmsteads.

It is also known for its tolerance to shade and is often a primary component of Iowa’s upland woodlands.

The silver maple contributes to Iowa’s outstanding fall colors, with leaves turning deep shades of orange, red, and golden yellow.

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