Silver maples are members of the Acer genus known for colorful fall foliage.
Acer saccharinum leaves also have silvery undersides that make them attractive as a specimen shade tree. Their downside is soft wood that cracks in high winds.
They are popular in France, a country known for tree-lined roads. Their numbers declined after a campaign to remove roadside trees that began in the mid-1970s.
Known in France as érable argenté, silver maples are fast-growing shade trees that can top 120 feet (36 meters). Their trunk branches near the ground and the crown is open, graceful and vase-shaped. Light green leaves provide dense shade and turn yellow in the fall.
One of the earliest flowering maples, the tree's fruit is winged with seeds flying on the wind. Silver maples live to 130 years in wet bottomlands, riverbanks and riparian forests and tolerate poor soil and sooty air.
Uses in France
Tough and flexible young maple shoots are used for whips in France. Silver maples tolerate pruning well, so they are shaped into hedges and other geometrical forms. The green leaves and shoots are gathered and dried for winter feed for cattle.
Soft maple wood is a valued timber resource on favorable sites and used for cordwood in poor sites. Silver maples grow three feet a year and provide a steady supply of pulp, cordwood and sawtimber.
Silver maple sap is used to make maple syrup in France. Of the more than 200 different species in the maple family, only a few produce sap suitable for making syrup.
Silver maples provide seeds for birds, while chipmunks and squirrels eat spring buds. Wood ducks and goldeneyes nest in silver maples, while beavers eat the bark and deer and rabbits the foliage. The soft wood develops cavities used by nesting birds and mammals. Branches are a communal roost for red-winged blackbirds, grackles, starlings and cowbirds.
A symbol of France, tree-lined roads are popularized in paintings, movies and prose. Henri IV in the 16th century designed straight roads lined with trees to furnish firewood, building materials and shade to his armies. However, the maples as well as planes and poplars were suspected of distracting drivers and have been geting cut down by local councils since the mid-1970s.
In 2001, many more fell victim to a national campaign to stop road deaths. According to a survey by the French forestry commission, 20,000 kilometers of roadside trees (three million trees, nearly 90 percent) have been destroyed since 1974.
Save the Trees
Arbres et Routes is an association for the protection of roadside trees, including silver maples. Founder Chantal Fauché has been able to save several thousand trees negotiating with local councils but thousands more have been cut down.
The Economist stated in 2004 that what decreased road deaths was stricter enforcement of speed laws. There is also a campaign against drunk driving.
The French government has offered to replace two trees for each one cut down to plant further back from the roadsides.