Maple trees for­ever

Ontario Gardener Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Ta­nia Mof­fat

With the sesqui­cen­ten­nial upon us, it seemed perti­nent to write about our na­tional tree (and flag em­blem), the ma­jes­tic maple. Of the 150 species of maples found around the world, only 10 are na­tive to Canada, yet it is the tree most iden­ti­fied with our great na­tion. Maples grow through­out Canada ex­cept in north­ern re­gions.

The 10 species of maple trees na­tive to Canada have been grow­ing here well be­fore our coun­try was dis­cov­ered by Euro­pean set­tlers. The trees have adapted to lo­cal con­di­tions and are much like our na­tion it­self; di­verse, hardy and beau­ti­ful. Part of the genus Acer, they are also well known for their glo­ri­ous fall fo­liage.

While the maple leaf may have been a sym­bol rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Canada well be­fore the coun­try’s con­fed­er­a­tion in 1867, it wasn’t un­til 1965 that the maple tree was of­fi­cially cho­sen as our Na­tional Ar­bo­real Em­blem and its bold red leaf placed on our flag. The maple leaf em­blem was used through­out Canada’s early his­tory by sev­eral as­so­ci­a­tions, set on pro­vin­cial and na­tional (1921) coat of arms and on the Royal Cana­dian 100th Reg­i­ment Badge. It was lauded by Jac­ques Viger, the first mayor of Mon­treal as, “the sym­bol of the Cana­dian peo­ple,” and used pro­lif­i­cally in dec­o­ra­tions when the Com­mon­wealth wel­comed the Prince of Wales in 1860.

The Maple Leaf For­ever, our first an­them, was penned in 1867 and the leaf ap­peared on all of Canada’s coins. Sadly, that tra­di­tion has passed since the penny re­tired in 2012. How­ever, today it can be found on our pa­per bills. The maple leaf has be­come em­bed­ded in our cul­ture, a sym­bol of Canada and its peo­ple. It is proudly dis­played on mil­i­tary equip­ment, on the uni­forms used to iden­tify our ath­letes at the Olympics and is worn by Cana­di­ans ev­ery­where, at home and abroad, as a sym­bol of our Cana­dian pride.

Our na­tive trees

Maple trees have be­come ac­cli­ma­tized to var­i­ous grow­ing con­di­tions; from wet to dry and even clay soils. They are cov­eted as shade and spec­i­men trees in gar­dens and for boule­vard plant­ings for both their beauty and tol­er­ance for drought. Maples are avail­able in a va­ri­ety of sizes, shapes and colours and are renowned for their colour in the au­tumn gar­den. Leaves of or­ange, yel­low, brown and red put on a daz­zling dis­play of colour, of­ten all on the same tree.

There are two types of maples classified by bark type: hard and soft. Hard maples grow slowly and live longer, spec­i­mens in­clude the black and sugar maple. Soft wooded trees such as red and sil­ver maples grow rapidly and there­fore pro­duce a softer word. Soft wood maples are more sus­cep­ti­ble to rot and bro­ken branches as they ma­ture.


Maple leaves are gen­er­ally easy to spot but do vary by species. De­cid­u­ous leaves, set op­po­site each other on the branch, are di­vided into three, five or seven ta­pered and pointed lobes. Some leaves have small in­dented lobes while oth­ers, like the Man­i­toba maple, are so deeply in­dented they look like three in­di­vid­ual leaves. Leaf shape and bark can help in tree iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. Maples do tend to be a tad pro­mis­cu­ous and can form hy­brids in the wild, some­times mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to pin down an ex­act ID.

Pollen and seed flow­ers vary, one tree can have as many as three types of flow­ers. Flow­ers ap­pear early in the spring ei­ther be­fore or at the same time as the leaves be­gin to bud. They are pol­li­nated by in­sects or the wind. If you are lucky enough to have a maple tree nearby, you can hear the busy buzz of pol­li­na­tors in early spring as they flock to one of spring’s first flow­ers.

Per­haps the most rec­og­niz­able trait of maple trees is their winged fruits or sama­ras, which are com­monly re­ferred to as keys. Each sa­mara con­tains a seed which is dis­persed by the wind when they are ripe. They are beau­ti­ful to watch as they he­li­copter down from the branches, swirling and twirling on the wind.

Green­houses of­fer a va­ri­ety of cul­ti­vars, from the dainty Ja­panese maple to the Amur maple with its bright red sama­ras de­vel­oped here in Canada. Should you hap­pen upon a spec­i­men you adore, maples are also eas­ily grown from cut­tings or seed.

Rather than one par­tic­u­lar species, the en­tire Acer genus was cho­sen to rep­re­sent our mul­ti­cul­tural na­tion, and with the maple leaf on our flag, there could not have been a more ob­vi­ous choice for Canada’s na­tional tree.

A maple bud swells in the spring (above left), soon to burst forth in young ten­der leaves (above right).

Vine maple flower.

The leaf of the sugar maple looks most like the leaf on our flag, how­ever, the styl­ized leaf was not meant to rep­re­sent any par­tic­u­lar species.

The dried sama­ras (fruit) of a maple.

The blos­som of a big leaf maple tree.

Bright fall colour of the Ja­panese Maple ( Acer japon­icum).

Tatar­ian maple "hot wings' ( Acer tatar­icum 'GarAnn').

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