With more than 100 species across Europe, the maple is a colourful flowering tree that is vital to biodiverse habitats.
Maple is the common name for a genus of trees and shrubs called Acer and part of the Sapindaceae family of flowering plants. There are 115 species widespread in the temperate and cold regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Growing up to 45 metres in height, the maple plays a key role in the biodiversity of natural habitats. It is believed that Native Americans made maple syrup from the sap of sugar maple trees long before it became popular.
The maple is crucial to biodiversity, as it is an important food source for wildlife. Its buds and fruit provide food for many birds and micro-flowers allow insects to collect pollen and nectar right through winter. The wood from maple trees also has multiple uses, including material for sustainably produced furniture.
Most maples can grow to between 10–45 metres in height, have a bushy appearance and an egg-shaped crown with few branches. Its bark is dark grey with long, shallow vertical crevices.
Maple trees and shrubs come in different shapes and sizes though. The Japanese maple grows to just 1.5–2 metres tall whereas the sycamore maple can reach 30 metres. Most maples have deciduous foliage that displays magnificent colours in autumn.
Typically shaped like a hand, most maple leaves have an opposite arrangement and clear sections. Small, often greenish-yellow flowers appear at the end of April or the beginning of May. The distinctive fruit of the maple is called samaras, which have membranous wings and have seeds that come in pairs.
We plant maples in spring and autumn, always making sure they are in locations that get plenty of sunlight or partial shade. They grow well in most soils, so long as they are moist, well-drained, slightly acidic and packed with organic matter. Of course, it’s always important to make sure that the planting and growing conditions are just right for the species of maple tree you plan to plant.
Wood from maple trees can vary depending on the species, but it is generally light in colour. Commonly used in carpentry, maple wood is moderately hard and very even, which makes it great for musical instruments, furniture, tool handles, flooring, cabinets and plywood.
In China and Japan, the maple leaf is a well-known symbol of love. Take a walk in the forests of North America and you will see storks weaving maple branches into their nests. That’s why it’s common for people to see the maple tree as a representation of love, especially when welcoming a new child into a family.
Is it time to declare your love by giving someone a maple tree? The maple makes an original birthday or Valentine's Day gift for a person in your life that means the world to you. Or if you know someone who has just had a baby, the maple is the gift that will last a whole lifetime.