Everything you need to know about the maple tree, from identification tips to typical characteristics; how to spot disease and the best way to maintain a maple tree.
The field maple tree is the only species of maple native to the United Kingdom. It is a broadleaf deciduous tree that can grow up to 20 metres in height and live for up to 350 years. The sap of the maple tree is used to make maple syrup, and maple wood is one of the most common used in furniture making.
Maple trees are very popular hedgerow plants as they don’t drop their lives when regularly pruned. The kaleidoscopic colour spectrum of this tree is a real treat, transforming through rich reds and russets during the autumn. For this reason, and also because the maple tree has a great tolerance to pollution and a compact growing habit, you will often find them in parks and gardens.
Often confused with the sycamore tree, the maple can be identified best through its seeds, which have a wider angle than those of the sycamore.
|Known as||Field maple, common elder|
|Latin name||Acer campestre|
|Location||UK native, Europe, West Asia|
|Lifespan||Up to 350 years|
|Height||Up to 20 metres|
|Appearance||A medium sized tree with a bushy crown that is fairly compact. Bark is light brown in colour and flaky in nature. The twigs are brown and thin, developing a cork-textured bark as they mature.|
|Leaves||Small, grey leaf buds grow on long stems. The leaves are dark green and shiny, fairly small in size and distinctively five-lobed with rounded teeth. From green, the leaves transform through a spectrum of eye-catching colours, treating the onlooker to reds, russets and finally yellow before they finally fall in autumn.|
|Flowers||Maple flowers have both male and female parts on the single flower, although they are dominated by one or the other. Flowers are green-yellow and small in size. They are cup-shaped and hang together in clusters.|
|Fruit||Maple flowers are insect pollinated. Once this has happened, they develop into large, straight-winged fruits that are carried on the wind towards their potential new homes. New seeds are pink-tinged.|
|Found in||Woodland, scrubland, hedgerows, chalk downland, parks and gardens.|
|Ideal soil||Moist but well drained, chalk, clay, loam or sand|
|Aspect||North, south, east or west facing|
|Exposure||Full sun to partial shade; Exposed|
|Pests||Sycamore gall mite, aphids, horse chestnut scale|
Maple Trees and Wildlife
The field maple is much loved by aphids, which means in turn it also attracts those who enjoy feasting on aphids themselves, such as birds, hoverflies and ladybirds.
Caterpillars of various moth species enjoy the leaves. You’ll often see the sycamore moth, the maple pug, the small yellow wave, the mocha as well as the maple prominent and the prominent. Maple tree flowers provide a rich source of pollen and nectar for bees, and the fruits are a healthy food source for small mammals and birds.
Maple Tree Symbolism and History
Generally, the maple tree symbolises generosity, promise, balance and practicality and it is known as the tree of offering.
In certain areas of Europe it was traditionally believed that the branches of the maple tree could be hung over a doorway to prevent bats from entering.
Nicholas Culpepper, the herbalist, would recommend maple bark and leaves as a liver strengthening supplement.
The Importance of Maple Trees
Of all the European maples, the field maple produces the highest density, hardest timber. Its rich, creamy brown colour and silky sheen make it perfect for wood-turning and carving. It is commonly used to produce musical instruments, in particular harps.
Thanks to the way it polishes up, and the attractive graining and patterns produced when sliced, maple makes a very popular veneer.
Caring for a Maple Tree
The field maple tree is very hard, so it can be safely pruned during the winter, as long as it is avoided during freezing temperatures.
Maple hedges need two pruning sessions per year to keep them in check. Following the winter pruning, another one in late May to early June is ideal. Sometimes you may find your maple hedge grows particularly quickly, so feel free to give it another trim in the second part of September to keep it looking nice and tidy.
The gall mite is a known issue with the maple tree, so look out for small, reddish coloured swellings on the surface of the leaves (sycamore/maple pimple gall mites), or densely growing cream or purple-pink coloured hairs under the leaves (sycamore/maple felt gall mites). Whilst these won’t necessarily harm the tree, the effects left behind are not attractive to look at, so you will probably want to call in some help to deal with the issue.
Aphids are a common problem too, as is horse chestnut scale. If you spot white circular eggs covered by brown shells on the larger branches and trunk in early summer, this is probably what is going on.
Verticillium wilt is a fungal disease that enters the tree through its roots. The infection causes wilting, yellowing leaves and dieback.
If you have spotted any of these symptoms, you should not hesitate to call in professional help. Similarly, if you want your maple tree or hedge to maintain excellent health generally, and to look as attractive as possible year round, the wisest course of action is to consult a qualified tree surgeon.
If you have a maple tree that would benefit from expert care and attention, why not contact Tree Works? As fully qualified and highly experienced tree surgeons, we can offer detailed skill and knowledge across all areas of maple tree care. For a free, no-obligation quotation, call us on 07781 416 354 or get in touch here.