Several species of maple trees grow in Indiana, including sugar maple, boxelder and the black maple. The sugar maple, in particular, is an important species, although not as vital as it once was when Indiana produced large quantities of maple syrup in the early part of the 19th century. Indiana’s common maples are useful now as shade trees, ornamentals and in providing places to live and supplying nourishment for birds and animals.
The black maple (Acer nigrum) also goes by such names as hard maple and rock maple, a reference to the wood of the tree. This species is a very close relation of the sugar maple and you could tap this tree for its sap to make syrup if you so desired. The leaves are from 3 to 6 inches long and possess from three to five separate lobes. Black Maple grows to heights of 80 feet, according to the “National Audubon Field Guide to Trees,” with some able to top 100 feet tall. The species can live for up to 200 years. Black maple features yellow fall foliage and the tree requires a large open area to expand when used as a landscaping tool. Black maple provides excellent shade and is a fast grower early on; slowing down as time passes until it fully matures. In Indiana, the species will flourish in rich, fertile, river bottomlands and exist with other hardwood species.
Boxelder (Acer negundo) is a medium-sized maple species that grows to between 30 and 60 feet tall. The leaves will fool you into thinking it may be some type of ash tree, states the Floridata website, since they are compound and not simple leaves like most maples possess in North America. Boxelder leaves can have as many as nine separate smaller leaflets on a central stem, which composes the compound leaf. The leaflets are 2 to 4 inches long and they will change to a yellow-green color in autumn, typically before any of the other maples do in Indiana. Boxelder is a popular tree with birds like cedar waxwings, which will eat the seeds as they migrate through the countryside. Boxelder cultivars include such types as Kelly’s Gold, which has brilliant yellow foliage. Boxelder grows rapidly in its first 10 to 20 years of life then gradually slows its growth rate. Boxelder needs much attention to its pruning, as you will have to remove broken and dead branches. The tree in Indiana’s varied climate needs full sun and watering during long droughts.
Indiana is at the southern part of the range of the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) in the United States. The tree typically grows to around 75 feet but can attain 100 feet in height. Known for its sweet sap that people boil to make maple syrup, the sugar maple also has brilliant fall foliage that includes colors like gold, red and orange. Sugar maple trees produce samaras as all North American maples do, a winged seedpod consisting of two pods joined in a U shape. Sugar maples do not do well where air pollution is present and require moist soil to flourish. The tree can withstand growing in the shade but for the best effect, you should keep it where it can stand alone, as it has a broad rounded crown of branches. The shade the tree precipitates may make it difficult to grow grass beneath it, states the University of Connecticut Plant Database website. Dwarf hybrids such as Shawnee and Natchez are available on the market, as is a cultivar called bonfire that can grow to 60 feet and has gaudy red leaves in the fall.