Of the 13 native maple trees in North America, silver maple, Acer saccharinum, is perhaps the easiest to recognize. Silver maple grows native along rivers and streams from most of New England westward to central Minnesota, with its range extending south into Gulf Coast states such as Alabama and Mississippi. This is a landscaping tree for wet areas, with one of its most identifiable features most evident with the advent of windy weather.
Look for a tree with a short trunk, an irregular crown of branches and very few large forking limbs. Silver maples grow between 50 and 80 feet tall, with trunk diameters up to 36 inches. Lower branches hang down, but sweep upward at their ends, notes the Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Examine the foliage of the silver maple, looking for deep indentations between the lobes of its leaves. Silver maple leaves feature five distinct lobes, with the margins between them often extending almost to the center of the leaf, especially on the upper lobes. This differs from most maple species. Silver maple leaves measure between 4- and 6-inches long and almost that wide.
Inspect the colors of the silver maple leaf. The upper surfaces are dark tints of green, but the undersides are dramatically different in color. The underside of the silver maple leaf is an almost silvery-white color, easily viewed and adding great contrast in the canopy when the wind blows, turning the leaf over and showing these colors. This feature gives the silver maple its name; the width of the leaf and its long stem allows the breezes to turn it around.
Inspect the bark and base of the mature silver maple, looking for a shaggy appearance and many large roots close to the surface of the ground. Mature silver maples have bark that changes from being smooth and gray to looking rough and scaly. Some of the long strips turn up on one end, as the tree gets older. The bark is gray-brown on the older silver maples. The trunk sometimes looks flared where it joins its root system.
Study the male and female flowers that occur on the silver maple and their resulting seeds called samaras. The male and female flowers are small and red, turning hues like green-yellow. Female flowers yield a seed, attached to the twig but with a trailing wing-like appendage connected to it. The samaras are as long as 2 1/2 inches. They litter the ground beneath the tree when they fall off by late spring.