Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is a large shade tree, also known as soft maple, white maple or river maple. Distinguished by the silvery undersides of its leaves, it is sometimes confused with its relative, the sugar maple (Acer saccharum), the primary source of maple syrup. Silver maple is native to eastern North America, but can also be found in New Mexico, California and Washington State.
Silver maples are stately trees with short trunks and a rounded crown. The trees are fast-growing and at maturity specimens can reach 50-70 feet tall, with some growing to 100 feet. Reddish flower buds appear early in spring. In late spring the winged samara, or fruits, are produced in large numbers. The medium green leaves are more deeply dissected than those of some other maples and turn yellow-brown in the fall, sometimes with a red tinge.
Silver maples are popular because they grow fast and produce copious shade. The red buds are attractive. Though the trees do best in evenly moist soil, especially near water sources, they are tolerant of poor, lean soil as well. Because of this, they may make a good choice in areas where few other trees will grow.
These trees suffer from brittle wood. Branches crack and break easily, making silver maples vulnerable to storms, temperature shifts and damage from heavy, wet snow. Because of this, they can be a problem in populated areas. The winged samara accumulate on lawns, sidewalks and planting beds and germinate very readily, creating an abundance of litter and lots of tiny seedlings that must be weeded out or otherwise eliminated. Root systems can dislodge sidewalks or paved surfaces and clog drains.
Silver maple is a larval host and nectar source for the Cecropia silkmoth. It also attracts birds.
Notable varieties include 'Pyramidale', with a columnar habit; 'Silver Queen', which produces very few fruits; 'Northline', which grows more slowly and may have stronger branches and 'Borns Graciosa', with the most deeply dissected leaves and a strong growth habit.