Meet the Many Species of Maple Trees

Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

Maple trees are classified in the genus Acer in the Maple family (Aceraceae). Many botanists now fold this family into the Sapindaceae (soapberry) family. Almost all of the species are deciduous.

Three traits that can help you spot a maple tree are leaves that are palmate and lobed, opposite branching, and winged seeds called samaras. If you wish to plant the seeds and grow your own, a period of stratification will likely be in order before they will germinate.

Many people decide to plant these because they work well as shade, street and specimen trees. Maples are renowned for their autumn colors. They love to put on a display of oranges, browns, yellows and reds every year. Some trees may have leaves sporting several of these colors at once! Another desirable trait of some species is their ability to tolerate drought.

  • 01 of 13

    Amur Maple

    Amur Maple
    Keith Ewing/Flickr/CC By 2.0

    The Amur maple is one of the smaller trees in the Acer genus.  Once established, it will have some drought resistance. In some areas it can be invasive, so check with your extension office first before planting. The 'Embers' and 'Flame' varieties have especially vibrant fall colors in both leaves and fruit.

    • Latin Name: Acer ginnala. Some classify this as Acer tataricum subsp. ginnala
    • Other Common Names: Siberian maple
    • Native to: Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Siberia
    • USDA Zones: 3-8
    • Size: 15-20' tall and wide
    • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Fall Color: Red. Sometimes yellow will also appear.
  • 02 of 13

    Big Leaf Maple

    Big leaf maple
    Brewbooks/Flickr/CC 2.0

    As the name suggests, there are some pretty big leaves on this tree. This species has the biggest leaves of any maple, which can be over 12" wide. The roots may cause problems for sidewalks and pipes.

    • Latin Name: Acer macrophyllum
    • Other Common Names: Bigleaf maple, broadleaf maple, Oregon maple
    • Native to: Alaska down to southern California, as well as Idaho.
    • USDA Zones: 5-9
    • Size: 20-100' tall and wide
    • Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Fall Color: Yellow or yellow-orange
  • 03 of 13

    Hedge Maple

    Hedge maple
    Shandchem/Flickr/CC 2.0

    The hedge maple is a great choice for the urban garden as it does well in drought, salty areas, ozone deficiency, acidic and alkaline soils, and areas with partial shade. It can also be used as a street tree if the power lines are high enough.

    • Latin Name: Acer campestre
    • Other Common Names: Field maple, common maple
    • Native to: Europe and southwestern Asia
    • USDA Zones: 5-8
    • Size: 25-35' tall and wide
    • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Fall Color: Yellow
  • 04 of 13

    Hornbeam Maple

    Hornbeam Maple
    Wlcutler/Flickr/CC 2.0

    Many plants in a genus are similar in appearance, but there can be some surprises. I was thrown for a moment when I first saw a picture of the hornbeam maple since the leaves are nothing like the ones we picture. Instead, as the scientific and common names note, the foliage is more like what you would find on a hornbeam (Carpinus spp.) and do not have the palmate lobes that most maple leaves feature.

    This species can be a small tree or large shrub.

    • Scientific Name: Acer carpinifolium
    • Other Common Names: Hornbeam-leaved maple
    • Native to: Japan
    • USDA Zones: 4-7
    • Size: 15-30' tall and wide
    • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Fall Color: Yellow, bronze, brown or gold
    Continue to 5 of 13 below.
  • 05 of 13

    Japanese Maple

    Japanese maple tree
    ketkarn sakultap/Getty Images

    The Japanese maple is a staple in many Japanese gardens, as well as in the world of bonsai. The leaves are either green or red and come in a wide variety of shapes and textures since there are thousands of cultivars of this species. This can be the focal point in many different types of garden designs. You can get dwarf ones that are more shrub-like in nature, or choose one that is more like a small to medium tree.

    • Latin Name: Acer palmatum
    • Native to: China, Korea, Japan
    • USDA Zones: 5-9
    • Size: Varies - average is 15-25' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade, may handle full shade
    • Fall Color: Depends on the variety
  • 06 of 13

    Norway Maple

    Norway maple
    Mick E. Talbot/Flickr/cc 2.0

    This popular maple species was brought to North America in the 18th century. You may not want to plant the Norway maple in a lawn as the roots will grow right to the surface and make mowing difficult. 'Crimson King' is one of the most popular varieties and features maroon leaves throughout the growing season. In the right settings, this species may become invasive, so make sure this is not a problem in your area first.

    • Latin Name: Acer platanoides
    • Other Common Names: European maple
    • Native to: Europe and western Asia
    • USDA Zones: 3-7
    • Size: 40-90' tall
    • Fall Color: Yellow, with some species exhibiting other colors
  • 07 of 13

    Paperbark Maple

    Paperbark maple
    Art Poskanze/rFlickr

    The paperbark maple is often chosen for its cinnamon or reddish-brown colored bark that peels away from the trunk, including when the tree is young. This is a great tree for providing color and interest during the winter. 

    • Latin Name: Acer griseum
    • Native to: Central China
    • USDA Zones: 4-8
    • Size: 15-30' tall and wide
    • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Fall Color: Red and/or green
  • 08 of 13

    Red Maple

    Red maple tree
    patrickou/pixabay/ CC0

    Many parts of the red maple live up to the name.  The red flowers become samaras that may feature red, which complement the leaves when they often turn red in the fall. The red maple can adapt to many different growing locations. 

    • Latin Name: Acer rubrum
    • Other Common Names: Scarlet maple, soft maple, Drummond red maple, Carolina red maple, swamp maple, trident red maple, water maple
    • Native to: Eastern United States and Canada
    • USDA Zones: 3-9
    • Size: 30-100' tall and 25-50' wide
    • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Fall Color: Green-yellow, red, burgundy
    Continue to 9 of 13 below.
  • 09 of 13

    Silver Maple

    Silver Maple
    Yetdark/Flickr/CC 2.0

    The undersides of this maple tree's leaves are silver and flash attractively in the wind. The silver maple is one of the trees you are most likely to see throughout the United States. Keep it away from areas with pipes and sidewalks.

    • Latin Name: Acer saccharinum
    • Other Common Names: Soft maple, creek maple, river maple, white maple, water maple
    • Native to: Eastern United States and Canada
    • USDA Zones: 3-9
    • Size: 50-100' tall and 35-70' wide
    • Exposure: Full sun
    • Fall Color: Yellow, orange or red
  • 10 of 13

    Sugar Maple

    Sugar Maple Tree
    Joshua Mayer/flickr/CC 2.0

    This maple is the first choice for making maple syrup as there is more sugar in the sap compared to other species, meaning it will take less sap to produce a gallon of syrup. The sugar maple can tolerate shade better than most large deciduous trees.

    • Latin Name: Acer saccharum
    • Other Common Names: Rock maple, hard maple
    • Native to: Northeastern and southern United States, and northeastern Canada
    • USDA Zones: 3-8
    • Size: 50-80' tall and 30-60' wide
    • Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Fall Color: Yellow, red or orange
  • 11 of 13

    Sycamore Maple

    Sycamore maple
    Sids1/Flickr/CC 2.0

    The species and common names for this maple come from the fact that the leaves are similar to those of the sycamore (Platanus). This tree does well with the conditions in urban areas like salt and pollution.

    • Latin Name: Acer pseudoplatanus
    • Other Common Names: False planetree, planetree maple, great maple, sycamore, Scottish maple, mock-plane
    • Native to: Europe and western Asia
    • USDA Zones: 4-7
    • Size: 40-60' tall, sometimes higher and 40-60' wide
    • Exposure: Full sun to light shade
    • Fall Color: Green, sometimes yellow-brown
  • 12 of 13

    Tatarian Maple

    Tatarian maple
    Vanessa Richins Myers/CC 2.0

    This species is closely related to the Amur maple. The Tatarian maple can either grow as a shrub or small tree. The red samaras match the autumn leaves nicely.

    • Latin Name: Acer tataricum
    • Other Common Names:
    • Native to: Central/southeastern Europe and Asia
    • USDA Zones: 3-8
    • Size: 15-20' tall and wide
    • Exposure:  Full sun to partial shade
    • Fall Color: Yellow and red
    Continue to 13 of 13 below.
  • 13 of 13

    Vine Leaf Maple

    Vine leaf maple
    Wlcutler/Flickr/CC 2.0

    The vine leaf maple features leaves with three parts, known as trifoliate. This small tree looks similar to the Japanese maple and may also be used as a specimen tree. 

    • Latin Name: Acer cissifolium
    • Other Common Names:  Vine-leafed maple, vine leaf maple, ivy-leaved maple, ivy leaf maple, ivy leaf maple
    • Native to: Japan
    • USDA Zones: 5-8
    • Size: 20-30' tall and wide
    • Exposure:  Full sun to partial shade
    • Fall Color: Yellow, red or green