The Differences in Maple Tree Varieties!

The Differences in Maple Tree Varieties!

maple tree

Gorgeous Maple Trees are showing off their deep green lobed foliage this time of year and are gearing up for their fall wardrobe change! These mighty ornamentals are incredible shade and lawn trees, impressive wildlife trees, and bring so much joy whether they’re planted in our own yards or not!

But did you know that there are a wide variety of Maple Tree types? Read on to learn about each of these fantastic deciduous trees and how to best care for them!

The Mighty Maple

maple red and green leaves

The Acer Maple Tree family is incredibly diverse! Sporting around 132 species, these Trees (and even a few shrubs!) are native throughout every continent in the Northern Hemisphere (with just a few exceptions). 

Found in the fossil record as far back as 100 million years ago, Maples make up a broad range of sizes from diminutive Bonsai to incredible specimens 150 feet in height! Plus some Maples live up to 300 years!

The dangling clusters of flowers appear in spring, sometimes before the leaves appear, and can range in color from yellow to green to red, purple and pink! Bees and butterflies adore these dangling clusters of blooms and are grateful for the early spring nectar resource! These become the well-known whirlygigs or helicopters, botanically known as samaras.

Many Maples have sweet sap, with the best derived from the well-known Sugar Maple. The sugary sap is also used to make Tennessee Whisky! But did you know the green seedpods inside the winged seeds of some varieties are also considered edible?

The lumber from these trees is strong and prized for furniture. But the wood also carries sound waves well - known as tonewood - making it perfect for crafting into musical instruments!

Types of Maple Tree Varieties

Red Maples (Acer rubrum)

red maple tree

Well known for its outstanding color in the fall and the typical family leaf shape, Red Maples are one of the most common and easily recognizable varieties and the most sought-after for their fall color! From the native Red, or try a highly-rated October Glroy, Summer Red, or Red Sunset!

Red Maple Identification

  • Mid-sized dioecious trees ~50 feet
  • Young bark is smooth and light gray. Older trees have rough peeling flaky bark
  • Twigs start green then turn reddish and glossy
  • Red flowers appear in clusters in March/April before the leaves show
  • Lower branching angles gracefully upwards
  • Leaves have 3-5 shallow lobes and typically pale green
  • Bright red/orange fall color
  • Samaras on female trees - narrow angled, >1-inch, red/green and ages tan
  • Bitter sap (sets it apart from the Sugar Maple)


  • Tolerates acidic soils
  • Intense fall color
  • Handle more moisture
  • Fast growth
  • Brightly colored flowers, seeds, fall color
  • Great shade, 3-season accent

Silver Maples (Acer saccharum)

sugar maple

Including the gorgeous and sweet-sapped Sugar Maple, these trees are named for their silvery undersides and lighter bark that is sometimes shaggy. Also known as Silverleaf, Creek, Water, Swamp or White Maples (among many others!), these trees have an open, rounded crown. With slender stalks, the leaves wave and flutter in the slightest breeze!

Silver Maple ID

  • Gray smooth bark on young trees that becomes irregular, fissured and flakey with age
  • Reddish-brown/light brown twigs are smooth
  • Symmetrical open crown - growing over 100 feet
  • Bright to light green 3-5 lobed 4-inch leaves with a lighter underside and double toothed
  • February/April flowers appear yellowish-green, monoecious, on long stalks.
  • September samaras are almost parallel and green that drop in late spring
  • Bright yellow, orange, and red colors in the fall
  • Sticky sweet sap flows in early spring


  • Grows over 100 feet in height
  • Very fast growing
  • Maple syrup!
  • Great windbreaks and shade trees, but not strong wooded
  • Urban environment tolerant

Norway Maples (Acer platanoides)

crimson sentry

Native to Switzerland, Norway Maples have big broad leaves and dramatic color. Incredibly cold-hardy selections, Norways were introduced from Europe and Asia in the mid-1700s and was a popular street tree in the 1960s. This family includes Globe Norway/Rocky Mountain Maples (Acer globosum). Try a Crimson Sentry or Royal Red for your yard.

Norway Maple ID

  • About 50 feet at maturity
  • Light brown smooth bark when young, darker and rougher on older trees
  • Reddish-brown twigs with large buds
  • Ornamental 4-7 inch bright green leaves with 5 lobes and shiny undersides
  • Milky sap in the leaf stalks
  • Yellow to lime-green showy flowers in spring appear in clusters (April/May)
  • Usually dioecious, sometimes monoecious
  • Samaras mature in September/October and have horizontal wings
  • Pale yellow fall color only when fall comes on slow


  • Very urban environment hardy, pollution and smoke tolerant
  • Drought-resistant once established
  • Coastal/road salt tolerant
  • Tolerates high soil pH (alkaline)
  • Great street tree
  • Tolerates soil compaction
  • Sap is semi-sweet and can be tapped

Boxelder (Acer negundo)

sensation boxelder

Going by many names, Box Elder, Manitoba Maple, Maple Ash, Elf Maple, Cut-Leafed, River, Three-Leaf, and Ash-Leafed Maple, Boxelder is its North American name. These Maples have compound leaves, but the leaflets keep their Maple family lobes and points. The shape and glossiness, however, have earned this tree the nickname the Poison Ivy Maple, but it does not share its namesake’s blistering oil. Try a tri-color Flamingo or Sensation Box Elder!

Boxelder Maple ID

  • Growing 35 to 70 feet
  • Pale-gray to light brown furrowed bark with interlacing ridges/scales as it ages
  • Ash-green compound leaves. Can have 3, 5, or 7 leaflets with shallow lobes, variable
  • Sometimes suckering, open crown
  • Long dangling clusters of flowers appear just as leaves start (April)
  • Female trees have green to greenish-yellow - red flowers on male trees with no petals
  • Female trees have clusters of mini-samaras in fall. Reddish/green, mature dark brown 
  • Pale yellow fall color


  • Very fast-growing
  • Loves growing in riverbeds and riparian locations in wet to very moist soil
  • Can thrive near water and in moist soil
  • Drought tolerant once established
  • Thrives in poor soil and high pH soils
  • Sugary sap - Called mountain molasses
  • Very cold-hardy

Japanese Maples 

waterfall Japanese maple

The Japanese Maple family includes a very diverse selection of trees! These are heavily cut-leaf trees that often have an umbrella or cascading ornamental form. Typically smaller in size on average, Asian types of Maples have dramatic leaf color, ornate leaf shapes, and even shower summer and fall leaf color! Check out our Blog on selecting the best Japanese Maple for your landscape! Some of Nature Hills' favorites are -

  • Coral Bark Maple (Acer palmatum)
  • Full Moon or Shirasawa Maple (Acer shirasawanum)
  • The Weeping Japanese Maple (Acer sieboldianum)
  • Japanese Red Maple (Acer pycnanthum)
  • Try a Gorgeous Waterfall Japanese Maple
  • A heavily dissected Crimson Queen
  • Bright green Green Laceleaf Japanese Maple!

Japanese Maple ID

green laceleaf japanese

  • Typically have smooth gray or reddish bark that can be rough when older
  • Palmate green to deep green leaves with serrated/toothy leaf margins
  • Some varieties can have red to burgundy leaves
  • Can have 5-7 dramatically pointed/finely dissected leaves
  • Graceful open, rounded, sometimes arching/umbrella and weeping forms
  • Small purple to reddish flowers in spring - monoecious
  • Small samaras in green to brown
  • Vibrant red to orange or yellow fall colors
  • Slower growing


  • Highly ornamental
  • Wide range in sizes, shapes and forms
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Tolerate acidic soils
  • Can be tapped for sweet sap

Amur Maples (Acer ginnala)

flame amur

Smaller leaves and a much smaller size, the dainty Amur Maple is a more shrubby tree with finely pointed flowers. Great street trees, screening or accent in some areas. These trees feature toothy, glossy leaves and even tiny samara winged seedpods and the family fall color. Check out the Compact Amur, or Flame Amur to add Maple leaf color without taking up much space.

Amur Maple ID

  • Gray-brown multi-stemmed trees or shrubs with vertical stripes
  • Spreading umbrella-shaped, open crown
  • Smaller size about 20 feet at maturity
  • Smooth lighter twigs with red leaf stalks
  • Fragrant rounded whitish-green clusters of flowers in May/June - Dioecious
  • Green leaves with 3 lobes with toothy margins
  • Loose clusters of samaras with reddish stalks and reddish wings, about 1-inch
  • Brilliant red fall color


  • Space-saving size
  • Colorful trees
  • Great screening, hedgerows and windbreaks
  • Handles some shade
  • Thrives in urban conditions and poor soil
  • Can be tapped for small amounts of syrup

Black Maple (Acer nigrum)

sugar maple tree

Large trees with dense crowns and dark gray bark with its namesake black under color. Similar to the Sugar Maple and often found growing side by side, the Black Maple is a tall, ornamental shade tree! With flowers, form, color, and size similar to the Sugar Maple, the bark and leaves are the main differences. In fact, it’s considered a subspecies and the two trees hybridize in nature.

Black Maple ID

  • Dark gray/black bark, furrowed and corky. Grows up to 75 feet in height
  • Orange-brown twigs with warts, held in opposite arrangements
  • Palmate 3-lobed leaves with fuzzy yellow-green undersides - edges appear droopy
  • Can be monoecious, dioecious, or hermaphroditic
  • Yellow/green small flowers with hairy stems - appear in the very early spring
  • Yellow, brown, and some red-orange fall color
  • September/October samaras 


  • Can tolerate occasional drought/flooding/wet sites once established
  • Great timber - strong tree and versatile 
  • Gorgeous ornamental, windbreak, shade and wildlife tree
  • Sweet sugary sap

Other Popular Types of Maple Trees

  • Tartarian/Tatar Maple (Acer tataricum)
  • Freeman Maples (Acer x freemanii) (naturally occurring hybrid cross with rubrum/silver)
  • Paper Bark/Paperbark Maples (Acer griseum)
  • Hedge/Field Maples (Acer campestre)
  • Trident Maple (Acer buergerianum)
  • Sycamore Maple (Acer pseudoplatanus) - Like the variegated Eskimo Sunset

Maple Tree Care

Very easy to grow and faster-growing depending on the species, most Maples are best when planted in the fullest sun you can! Then there is the ornamental Japanese Maple that does better in partial shade in warmer climates. Get to know your tree before purchasing to know its particular needs.

maple tree color infographic

There’s a perfect Maple for your front or back yard plantings! Not only are these cooling shade trees and street trees that will save you money in cooling costs, but their lovely form and fantastic fall color add incredible curb appeal! 

For most Maples, careful site selection is important since their root systems can be extensive.

  • Full Sun Varieties and Partial Shade varieties
  • Well-Drained Deep Soil
  • Regular Moisture At First - Drought Tolerant Once Established
  • Appreciates Mulched Beds
  • Prune Maples When Dormant

All About Maple Tree Fall Color

Fall color can range from blinding brilliant reds, oranges, yellows, purples, greens, and every combination thereof! These colors are imprinted into the leaves during the growing season and are only revealed in the event of cooler temperatures that stop chlorophyll production. Once the green recedes, the colors accumulated begin to show!

This color greatly depends on many factors -

  • The tree species
  • Weather conditions (warm sunny days, cool nights) 
  • Temperatures and temperature fluctuations
  • Moisture access (droughts/extreme rain)
  • Age and life stage of the tree
  • Soil nutrient access
  • Sun/light intensity and amounts

Rainy days can lead to more yellow and orange. Low temperatures at night and full sunlight all day can increase the red colors. A hard fast and unexpected freeze leads to brown. Too much or too little fertility can also lead to no color change or a less-than-stellar color change.

Marvelous Maples!

Check out all the fantastic varieties of Maple Tree at Nature Hills and start shading your world with these incredible specimens!

Happy Planting!

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