Common name: striped maple
by Nathan McCullin, Intern
The simple elegance of the striped maple, Acer pensylvanicum, has helped to build this mid-sized tree a well deserved and respectable reputation. While not the best specimen tree, the striped maple still has much to offer in the landscape. It’s often shrubby form makes it a well suited tree for the edge of woodlands and is great for naturalizing an area. In the family Aceracea the striped maple has more than one alias ranging from snake bark maple to moosewood. The reasoning behind the names lies not within its foliage but rather its bark. Stunningly interesting, the bark maintains an attractive green color interlaced with greenish white stripes all year long. Its winter appeal outdoes most others by a long shot and its display of brilliant yellow fall color makes the transition from autumn to winter even more interesting.
For the most superb winter appeal the Acer pensylvanicum cultivar ‘Erythrocladum’ s the perfect choice due to its stunning soft red bark color interlaced with white striations. This coloration occurs after leaf fall when the weather beg ins to get cold and makes a great view when planted in front of evergreens. When it snows the tree puts on an even bigger show gracefully holding the snow on its branches making the bark stand out even more. When in leaf ‘Erythrocladum” bears more of a cinnamon colored bark, still with the striations and possessing the same habit and leaf form of the straight species Acer pensylvanicum. Renowned botanist Michaels Dirr describes the specimen as rare and hard to propagate also saying he “had only read about this form until viewing it first hand in Boston and England”. Surely it is a great plant but don’t forget that the cultivar is much like the species and still prefers part shade and naturalized setting rather than being in full sun as a specimen.
Acer pensylvanicum is native to the northeast ranging from Nova Scotia to Minnesota and as far south as northern Georgia proving its versatility in different climates with a zone rating ranging from 3-7. This is definitely not a full sun plant which, as stated ealier, makes it a poor candidate for use as a specimen. However, it thrives in partial sun and does best in moist, well drained soils that are on the slightly acidic side. This is why it works well at the edge of woodlands and when naturalizing. The striped maple will typically grow between 15 and 20 feet tall with its spread usually less than or equal to its height. The small yellow/green flowers that appear in May remain inconspicuous, unlike the glossy bright red buds which open up to large, bright green, 3-lobed leaves that posses a roundish obovate shape. Young leaves are quite pubescent but that passes with time revealing a nearly glabrous finish. Like many other maples its fruits come in the form of samara between ½ and 1 inch long that dangle on the end of a 4-6 inch raceme.
The striped maple has much to offer when used correctly and it can easily become a year round attraction. The importance of using native plants is hard to explain in a few sentences but everyone can always make an easy first step. Acer pensylvanicum could be your first step to creating a well balanced and healthy ecosystem. If not for the environment than at least for the soft green leaves in summer, glowing yellow show in fall and white striped bark in winter. The striped maple is an all around versatile tree and is a great choice for your woodland garden.
Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Michael A. Dirr, University of Delaware Botanic Garden Data Base