The Maples

Red Maple Box-elder Red Maple Silver Maple

What are they?

Maples are an integral part of North American culture, providing useful wood, large shade trees, maple syrup and spectacular fall color. Maples are typified by having petalless, wind-pollinated flowers that open on bare branches before the leaves, mostly palmate leaves (though not always) and good fall color.

Where are they found?

Despite being associated with all things American, there is only one native species of maple in Cape May county, the others only occurring as naturalized trees on sites of old houses, or where self-seeded from nearby garden plants. Red Maple is widespread and abundant, others are rather uncommon to common.


Identification of the species found in Cape May is relatively straightforward based on leaves and, occasionally, buds or twigs.

Box-elder      Acer negundo

(Ash-leaved Maple) Native to the USA (including Northern New Jersey) but prefers deeper valley soils not found in the coastal gravel plains of South Jersey. Seeds fairly readily and often found on waste land and marginal habitats where it has spread from nearby garden trees. Flowers April to May. A medium-sized, spreading tree with rather unusual leaves for a maple.
Box-elder Box-elder Box-elder Box-elder
Leaves sometimes
more complex
seed capsules

Box-elder Box-elder
Winter buds

Silver Maple      Acer saccharinum

Very common as a garden tree and popular as a large shade tree. Not native in the gravel soils of the coastal plain but occasionally found self-sown in marginal habitats. Flowers February to April. Along with Red Maple, this will be the first tree that most people will see in flower each year. Very similar in appearance to Red Maple but leaves distinctive and trunk on older trees generally becomes broader and more massive.
Silver Maple Silver Maple Silver Maple Silver Maple
Male Flowers
Female flowers
Seed capsules

Silver Maple Silver Maple

Red Maple      Acer rubrum

Widespread and abundant; one of the commonest broad-leaved trees in the region. Usually in wetter soils, even in swamps and bogs. Flowers March to April. A very variable tree but always easily identified to species. Plants with three-lobed leaves (variety trilobum) are often found and sometimes called Trident Maple. The first native tree to flower in the spring and a major component of fall color.
Red Maple Red Maple Red Maple Red Maple
Male (left) &
female (right) flowers
Typical leaves
Three-lobed leaves
Seed capsules

Red Maple Red Maple
Winter twig

Norway Maple      Acer platanoides

Introduced from Europe. Widespread and often common as a self-sown tree, spreading from nearby gardens. Found in a wide range of marginal habitats and waste places. Flowers April. Strangely popular as a garden tree, this species is much inferior to any of the native maples, though its rich butter-yellow fall color is attractive. Similar to Sugar Maple (which is not native to South Jersey) but can be told by the milky sap which exudes when a leaf is snapped off.
Norway Maple Norway Maple Norway Maple Norway Maple
Milky sap
Seed capsules

Norway Maple Norway Maple
Twig & bud