Maple Trees in Louisiana: A Guide to Native Species

Louisiana is home to several native maple tree species, most notably the red maple and the Florida maple or southern sugar maple, which thrive in the state’s wet, low-lying environments. Non-native maples like the silver maple and box elder are also common across Louisiana, where they have become naturalized.

Box Elder Maple (Acer negundo)

The box elder maple is a medium-sized, deciduous tree that can grow up to 50 feet tall.

It is native to the central and eastern parts of North America but can now be found in many areas across the country, including Louisiana.

This tree is considered an invasive species in some parts of the US, but it has naturalized across Louisiana and is commonly found in bottomlands, prairies, open woodlands, and along streams.

The box elder maple has a spreading, irregular crown with ascending branches when grown in the open. The bark is smooth and gray when young but becomes furrowed with age.

The leaves are pinnately compound with 3-7 leaflets. Each leaflet is around 2-4 inches long, with irregular serrated margins.

The upper leaf surfaces are green, while the undersides are paler. In the fall, the leaves turn pale yellow.

One of the identifying features of the box elder maple are the winged fruits.

These single-seeded samaras are around 1-2 inches long, with two wings spreading almost at right angles.

The samaras mature in late summer and persist on the branches through fall and winter.

The box elder maple is fast growing when young but has a short lifespan, rarely living more than 80 years. It can tolerate a wide range of soils, but prefers moist, fertile soils.

It also tolerates pollution, salt, and drought. This adaptability allows it to thrive across Louisiana.

The wood of the box elder maple is relatively soft and is not used commercially. However, it can be used as firewood and makes decent wood pulp.

The tree also provides some food to wildlife, as squirrels, birds, and some insects feed on the seeds, buds, and leaves.

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)

The silver maple is a large, fast-growing deciduous tree that can reach heights of 50-80 feet.

Native to eastern North America, it is also known as silverleaf maple, creek maple, silverleaf maple, soft maple, water maple, and white maple.

This species has become naturalized across much of Louisiana and can be found statewide near waterways.

Silver maples have an open, spreading crown with ascending branches when grown in full sun. The bark is smooth and silvery-gray when young but becomes rough and furrowed with age.

The leaves are simple and palmately lobed, 5-7 inches wide with deep sinuses between the lobes.

The upper surfaces are dark green and shiny, while the undersides are silvery-white. In fall, the leaves turn pale yellow.

The flowers emerge in early spring before the leaves.

They are yellow-green and appear in drooping clusters. The fruit are paired winged samaras around 1-3 inches long that ripen in late spring.

The wings are initially green but turn reddish-brown as they mature.

The silver maple grows rapidly when young, adding over 3 feet of growth per year under ideal conditions. Growth slows as the tree ages.

The wood is relatively weak and prone to damage from wind, ice, and heavy snow. The tree also has invasive roots that can crack pipes and damage infrastructure.

The lifespan is typically around 100-130 years.

Silver maples prefer moist, fertile soils in full sun. They are often found along streams, floodplains, and wet bottomlands across Louisiana.

The tree provides nesting sites for birds and seeds that are eaten by wildlife. It also produces sap that can be used to make maple syrup, although not in high quantities.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Maple Trees in Louisiana

The red maple is one of the most common and widespread deciduous trees native to North America.

In Louisiana, it occurs statewide but reaches its largest size in the fertile soils of the Mississippi River delta. Red maples typically grow 40-60 feet tall with an oval, rounded crown.

Mature trees can reach heights over 100 feet in ideal conditions.

Red maple leaves are simple and palmately lobed with 3-5 lobes and serrated margins. The lobes are less deep than silver maple leaves.

The upper surfaces are shiny green while the undersides are whitish. In autumn, the leaves turn bright scarlet red or orange-red, giving the tree its name.

The young twigs are also reddish in color.

The flowers bloom in early spring before the leaves emerge, appearing in small, reddish clusters. The fruits are paired winged samaras around 3/4 to 1 inch long that mature in late spring.

The samara wings are initially red but fade to pale brown.

Red maples prefer moist soils and full to partial sun exposure. In Louisiana, they grow best in the alluvial soils along streams and river bottoms.

The tree is fast growing when young but susceptible to limb breakage in ice storms once mature. Lifespans under urban conditions are typically around 60 years.

Beyond its visual appeal, the red maple has several uses. The dense, fine-grained wood can be used for furniture, cabinets, musical instruments, and flooring.

The sap can be used to make maple syrup, although sugar maples produce higher yields.

Red maples also provide nesting habitat, flowers for pollinators, and seeds and buds consumed by birds and mammals.

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