Acer saccharinum L.

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Credits

Dan Crowley (2024)

Recommended citation
Crowley, D. (2024), 'Acer saccharinum' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online (treesandshrubsonline.org/articles/acer/acer-saccharinum/). Accessed 2024-06-18.

Genus

Common Names

  • Creek Maple
  • River Maple
  • Silver Maple
  • Soft Maple
  • Swamp Maple
  • Water Maple
  • White Maple

Synonyms

  • Acer dasycarpum Ehrh.
  • Acer eriocarpum Michx.
  • Acer saccharinum f. laciniatum (Carr.) Rehd.
  • Argentacer saccharinum (L.) Small
  • Saccharodendron saccharinum (L.) Nieuwl.
  • Sacchrosphendamnus saccharinus (L.) Nieuwl.

Other taxa in genus

Glossary

section
(sect.) Subdivision of a genus.
hybrid
Plant originating from the cross-fertilisation of genetically distinct individuals (e.g. two species or two subspecies).
included
(botanical) Contained within another part or organ.

Credits

Dan Crowley (2024)

Recommended citation
Crowley, D. (2024), 'Acer saccharinum' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online (treesandshrubsonline.org/articles/acer/acer-saccharinum/). Accessed 2024-06-18.

A deciduous tree to 30(–35) m tall. Bark grey, smooth, fissuring longitudinally with age, sometimes forming scales. Branchlets glabrous, greenish, turning reddish brown. Buds ovoid, red, with three to seven pairs of scales, ciliate. Leaves pentagonal in outline, base cordate to truncate, deeply five lobed, 14–20 × 10–18 cm, sinuses narrow, lobes apically acuminate, margins irregularly double serrate, upper surface bright green, lower surface glaucous; petiole 4–10 cm long, green or reddish, glabrous, often grooved, broadest at base; autumn colours usually yellow. Inflorescence axillary, corymbose, densely flowered. Flowers greenish to pinkish red, usually dioecious, pedicels short, sepals four to five, long and narrow in male flowers, short and stout in female flowers, petals absent, ovary pubescent, stamens five to eight. Samaras 3–7.5 cm long, on slender pedicels, wings spreading obtusely or at right angles. Nutlets rounded. Flowering January to February, before leaves, fruiting in April to May. (Sargent 1965; Elias 1980; van Gelderen et al. 1994; Rushforth 1999).

Distribution  Canada New Brunswick, Ontario, Québec United States Arkansas, Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin

Habitat Lowlands, in poorly to well drained soils on floodplains and along watercourses. It typically grows in association with several other species including Acer rubrum (with which it hybridises to form A. × freemanii), Betula nigra, Tilia spp. and Ulmus spp.

USDA Hardiness Zone 3-9

RHS Hardiness Rating H7

Conservation status Least concern (LC)

The fastest growing North American maple, Acer saccharinum has gained a reputation as something of a damage-prone liability, its combination of rapid growth, brittle wood and poor crown structure bemoaned by many. Such opinions aren’t entirely unfair, though at its best it makes a graceful tree with sweeping lower branches with ascending tips; its long-petioled leaves twisting in a breeze to reveal their silvery undersides makes for a pleasing scene.

Adapted to floodplains and seasonally wet areas, Acer saccharinum does best in colder climates where winters are sufficiently cool to satisfy the dormancy requirements of the species’s terminal leaf buds. If not fulfilled, these may die and be replaced by lateral buds, growth from which result in V-shaped unions susceptible to damage (Sternberg 2004). Hence, when grown in the right areas and properly managed, A. saccharinum can make a fine specimen, though relatively short-lived.

A member of Section Rubra, the species produces its flowers before the leaves. Held high in the crown, the small, densely set inflorescences are difficult to observe in detail, though viewed en masse are a striking sight. Its fruits form more or less as the leaves emerge, with those that are fertile quick to germinate (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994).

Introduced to Europe by Sir Charles Wager in 1725 (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994), Acer saccharinum is frequently found growing along suburban streets as well as in parks and gardens here. Like A. saccharum, this species does well in cooler parts of the UK and Ireland (Mitchell (1996) reported ‘big trees in the far north of Scotland’) but the biggest and best have consistently been in the warmer south. The current UK and Ireland Champion grows at Gravetye Forest, West Sussex, measured at 30.5 m tall in 2017. A specimen at Westonbirt of 29 m (in 2014) has produced several ascending stems from the lower part of the trunk which reach high into the crown (pers. obvs. 2024), while a slighty shorter (26 m in 2015), but broader-crowned and more shapely individual grows at Borde Hill, West Sussex (pers. obs. 2023). A specimen that grew beside the Arnold Arboretum’s Meadow Road was the arboretum’s tallest tree, measured at 38.5 m tall and 1.7 m diameter in 2008 (Rose 2008). Grown from seed received from Benjamin M. Watson of Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1881, it came through a hurricane in 1938 but was damaged by Hurricane Irene in 2011, and again by a storm in 2018. Consequently, its crown has been lightened and cable-braced but, as of January 2024, it continues to survive (M. Dosmann, pers. comm. 2024).

Though capable of turning a good yellow, Acer saccharinum is not such an autumnal star as many other North American maples, and is being superseded as an ornamental by the hybrid A. × freemanii (A. rubrum × A. saccharinum). Several older selections of A. saccharinum are noted by van Gelderen et al. (1994) as probably lost to cultivation. Only those referred to by Bean (1976) or elsewhere since 1994 are included here.

According to Peattie (2013), Francois Michaux found that in the American Midwest plants of Acer saccharinum were tapped for sugar. The resulting product was reportedly of a finer grade than that of A. saccharum, though the flow too small to compete commercially with that species.


'Asplenifolium'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4

A selection close to ‘Wieri Laciniatum’, though with narrower leaves that are not so deeply incised and are often perforated (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994). The elongated branches are semi-drooping and are also less pendulous than in ‘Wieri Laciniatum’ (Hatch 2021–2022). It was recorded as growing at the Royal Nurseries De Bie van Aalst Ltd., The Netherlands, since around 1925, and sold as a subsititute for ‘Wieri Laciniatum’ (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994). However, the nursery no longer exists and the mother plants have been lost (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994). Some plants sold as ‘Wieri Laciniatum’, historically at least, belong here (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994).


'Aureum'

Common Names
Goldenleaf Silver Maple

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4

Introduced by Naperville Nursery, Illinois, in 1934 (Jacobson 1996), with leaves that are golden yellow above (Hatch 2021–2022). It was described as rare in North America by 1996 (Jacobson 1996), and as probably lost to cultivation by van Gelderen et al. (1994).


'Beebe Cutleaf Weeping'

Synonyms / alternative names
Acer saccharinum 'Beebe'
Acer saccharinum 'Beebe Cutleaf Silver'
Acer saccharinum 'Bee Bee Cutleaf'
Acer saccharinum 'Beebei'
Acer saccharinum 'Laciniatum Beebe'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3

A clone with drooping lower limbs and deeply cut leaf lobes, though these are shorter in length than the similarly cut-leaved ‘Wieri’ (Hatch 2021–2022). This selection was considered by Jacobson (1996) to be the best of all cut-leaved silver maples. It was introduced by Cole Nursery, Ohio, in 1953 and speculated to have been named for the City of Beebe, Ohio (Hatch 2021–2022).


'Bicolor'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4

A selection with mottled, yellowish green leaves that later turn to green (Hatch 2021–2022), reported to be rarely grown by van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom (1994).


'Blair'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4

Originating from Blair, Nebraska, this has an upright habit and noted for its short limbs that are less prone to storm damage than some other cultivars (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994; Jacobson 1996). It was introduced by Marshall Nursery, Nebraska, in 1939 (Jacobson 1996).


'Born's Gracious'

Synonyms / alternative names
Acer saccharinum 'Born's Graciosa'
Acer saccharinum 'Borus Graciosa'
Acer saccharinum 'Bruno'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3b

A vigorous tree with narrow, very deeply lobed leaves and thread-like new growth (Hatch 2021–2022). Described as a graceful tree of slightly weeping habit by van Gelderen et al. (1994), it was introducd by George Born of Rosenheim, Germany (Bean 1976) having been discovered by him in 1948 as a chance seedling (van Gelderen et al. 1994). The synonym ‘Born’s Graciosa’, used by Bean (1976), was published by Gerd Krüssmann in 1959, though this name was rejected by the cultivar registrar, which at the time was the Arnold Arboretum (van Gelderen et al. 1994). ‘Bruno’ is considered identical and is assumed to be a spelling error (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994); plants have been sold under this name by Plantentuin Esveld (van Gelderen et al. 1994).


'Crispum'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4

A clone with deeply lobed leaves with crinkled margins (Bean 1976), now considered to be lost from cultivation (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994).


'Golden'

Synonyms / alternative names
Acer saccharinum 'Luteum'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4

Introduced by Jewell Nurseries, Minnesota, in around 1947 (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994; Jacobson 1996), noted for its orange to golden bark (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994; Jacobson 1996). ‘Luteum’ is considered to be probably the same clone by Jacobson (1996), whose opinion is followed here.


'Heterophyllum Laciniatum'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4

A fast-growing tree with more deeply dissected leaves than ‘Wieri Laciniatum’ (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994). Reported as much circulated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Jacobson 1996), it is now rare and was thought to be no longer available in the trade by van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom (1994).


'JFS H1'

Synonyms / alternative names

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3

This interesting tree was grown from seed collected from a witches’ broom, selected by Dr William Hoch in Wisconsin (Schmidt & Son Co. 2023). Described as having a ‘unique, compact growth habit and excellent branch structure that forms a remarkably symmetrical, upright oval tree to 10 m’ (Schmidt & Son Co. 2023). Neither flowers nor seeds have been seen on the selection, with over 20 years of observations (Schmidt & Son Co. 2023).


'Lockstead'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4

Discovered by N. Stewart of Stewart’s Botanical Garden, Lockstead Settlement, New Brunsick, and introduced by Sheriden Nursery, Ontario (Jacobson 1996). It has small, threadlike leaves and pendulous branch tips (Jacobson 1996).


'Lutescens'

Synonyms / alternative names
Acer saccharinum 'Yellow Bronze'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4

A selection with orange-yellow young leaves that turn yellow later (Bean 1976). It was introduced by Späth’s nurseries in 1881 (Jacobson 1996), and imported to the US by the Arnold Arboretum in 1927 (Jacobson 1996). van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom (1994) state that it is slow growing and of only limited availability.


'Northline'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3

A seedling selected in 1970 at the Morden Research Station, Manitoba, with a wide branching habit (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994; Jacobson 1996), also noted as cold-adapted (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994; Jacobson 1996).


'Pendulum'

Common Names
Weeping Silver Maple

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4

A European selection with pendulous branches made around the 1870s (Jacobson 1996) and distributed by Van Volxem’s nurseries (Bean 1976). It was recorded in the United States by around 1897, but was always rare there and considered commercially extinct by 1996 (Jacobson 1996). Plants that had grown at RBG Kew had long since disappeared by 1976 (Bean 1976). It is distinguised from ‘Wieri Laciniatum’ by its more prominently three-lobed leaves (Jacobson 1996).


'Pyramidale'

Synonyms / alternative names
Acer saccharinum 'Columnare'
Acer saccharinum 'Fastigiatum'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4

A tree of broadly columnar habit first sold by Späth’s nurseries in 1885 (Bean 1976). It is fast growing, with leaves indistinguishable from those of the species (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994). Jacobson (1996) notes that more than one clone may have been given this name.


'Schwerinii'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4

Although no longer available in nurseries, it is perhaps not extinct from collections (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994). It has an erect habit, with deeply dissected leaves (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994).


'Silver Cloud'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3

A particularly hardy selection from Manitoba, Canada. It has upright form in youth, becoming broad oval to rounded with age, its leaves turning yellow in autumn (Dirr & Warren 2019).


'Silver Queen'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3

According to Dirr & Warren (2019), this is a very popular Acer saccharinum selection, developing an upright oval crown with a better branch structure than is typical of the species. Glossy leaves turn yellow in autumn (Dirr & Warren 2019).


'Skinneri'

Common Names
Skinner's Cutleaf Silver Maple

Synonyms / alternative names
Acer saccharinum 'Skinner'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3b

A cut-leaved selection that develops a pyramidal crown with weeping branches (Dirr & Warren 2019). Introduced by Naperville Nursery, Illinois, in 1934 (Jacobson 1996), the original tree was found by J.H. Skinner of Skinner Nursery, Kansas. Its leaves turn yellow in autumn (Jacobson 1996).


'Variegatum'

Synonyms / alternative names
Acer saccharinum 'Albo-maculatum'
Acer saccharinum 'Juhlkei'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4

An old German cultivar, thought no longer to be in cultivation by van Gelderen et al. (1994).


'Wagneri Laciniatum'

Synonyms / alternative names
Acer saccharinum 'Wagneri'
Acer saccharinum 'Wagneri Dissectum'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4

Noted as commercially extinct by Jacobson (1996), we include it here as plants belonging to ‘Wieri Laciniatum’ may be found in some gardens and nurseries under the synonym ‘Wagneri’, though its leaves are more deeply incised (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994). The cultivar was introduced by Haage & Schmidt Nursery, Germany in 1865, and is thought to have been named for Sir Charles Wager who introduced the species to UK cultivation (albeit his name was mis-spelled) (Jacobson 1996).


'Wieri Laciniatum'

Common Names
Cutleaf Silver Maple
Wier's Cutleaf Silver Maple

Synonyms / alternative names
Acer saccharinum 'Laciniatum Wieri'
Acer saccharinum 'Wieri'
Acer saccharinum 'Wier's Cutleaf'

RHS Hardiness Rating: H7

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4

A widely grown tree discovered in 1870 in the Genesee Valley near Rochester, New York, by Dr D.B. Wier of Lacon, Illinois, who sold it to Ellwanger & Barry of Rochester (Mitchell 1996; Jacobson 1996). It was subsequently introduced in 1873 and has been common ever since (Jacobson 1996). It has deeply dissected leaves and develops a somewhat flat-topped crown (van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994), though with weeping branches, on full-size trees. Mitchell (1996) reported one example just under 29 m tall at Anglesea Abbey, Cambridge, UK in 1990.

Sometimes seen listed as simply ‘Wieri’, and also as ‘Laciniatum Wieri’ (e.g. van Gelderen, de Jong & Oterdoom 1994), and often with the name misspelled to put the first i after the e (e.g. Mitchell 1996), the name used here follows the original literature, as advocated by Jacobson (1996) and Hatch (2021–2022).