Trees of the Adirondacks:
Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum)
The Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum) is a small, deciduous understory tree or large shrub. This species can be found in both northern hardwood and mixed wood forests in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York.
Striped Maples are also known as Goosefoot or Goosefoot Maple – a reference to the fact that the leaf is shaped roughly like the foot of a goose. Striped Maple are also known as Moosewood – a reference to the fact that the bark is consumed by moose in winter. The plant is also referred to as Pennsylvania Maple (a reference to the state of Pennsylvania, where the tree is a native species) and Snakebark Maple (a reference to its distinctive striped bark).
Identification of the Striped Maple
Striped Maple is a slow-growing understory tree which rarely grows over twenty or thirty feet tall and is often found growing as a shrub. The trunk is generally short and forked, usually divided into a few ascending, arching branches.
Striped Maple bark is smooth and green or greenish brown. It features long white or pale vertical lines. As the tree matures, the bark turns reddish-brown with dark vertical lines. The twigs are green and hairless, becoming striped with whitish lines.
Like other maples, Striped Maples have opposite, lobed leaves. The leaves of the Striped Maple are large, thin, and somewhat papery. They usually have three triangular, forward-pointing lobes, with a large central lobe. The margins of the leaves are finely toothed. The base of the leaf is rounded or slightly heart-shaped. Striped Maple leaves are a deep yellow-green and smooth above, turning yellow in autumn.
Keys to identifying the Striped Maple and differentiating it from other maples include its leaves, bark, and growth habit.
- Although Red Maple and Striped Maple, both have toothed leaf margins, Striped Maple leaves are more shallowly lobed than the deeply lobed leaves of Red Maple.
- The leaves of the Striped Maple differ from those of the Sugar Maple, which has several pointed tips on each lobe. By contrast, Striped Maple leaves are uniformly and finely double-toothed.
- Mountain Maple leaves resemble those of the Striped Maple. Both generally have three lobes with a heart-shaped or rounded base, although the Mountain Maple leaf sometimes has five lobes. However, Mountain Maple leaves are coarsely-toothed, contrasting with the tiny teeth of the Striped Maple leaf. Mountain Maple leaves are also somewhat smaller on average.
- The striped bark of the Striped Maple contrasts with that of the Mountain Maple, which is darker and reddish brown, without conspicuous vertical striping.
- The growth habit of the Striped Maple contrasts with that of both the Sugar Maple and the Red Maple. Both of these latter species mature into large trees, with a straight, single trunk, while the Striped Maple is a small tree or large shrub, often divided into several branches from near the base.
Striped Maple flowers in late spring or early summer, following leaf development. The flowers are small and greenish yellow, arranged in loose drooping clusters. In the Adirondack region, flowers usually appear in late May into early June.
The fruits are somewhat reddish in early development, changing later to tan. The fruits have widely spaced wings and are about 3/4 inch long, maturing in late summer and early fall. Fruits usually develop in September in the Adirondack Mountains.
Uses of the Striped Maple
The Striped Maple has limited uses. Its porous and fine-grained wood has occasionally been used by cabinet makers for inlay material. Native American tribes reportedly used the wood to make arrows and the bark to make a beverage. Farmers in the American colonies and Canada reportedly fed their cattle both dried and green leaves in the winter; in the spring, when the buds had begun to swell, they turned their horses and cows into the woods to browse on the young shoots.
Striped Maple has no known edible uses and limited medicinal uses. Native American tribes used the the Striped Maple to treat a variety of ailments including bronchial and kidney troubles, colds, and coughs.
Wildlife Value of the Striped Maple
The Striped Maple is probably most important as a browse plant for wildlife. Its twigs are browsed by Snowshoe Hare; Red Squirrels and Eastern Chipmunks eat the seeds. Striped Maple is frequently eaten by North American Porcupines. The Striped Maple also provides browse for White-tailed Deer and Moose, though the net energy derived from winter browse is relatively low. Ruffed Grouse consume the vegetative buds. Striped Maples are also very useful to wildlife in that these small understory trees help diversify the vertical profile of a forest, creating the dense layers in a woodland that are attractive to many wildlife species for nesting, feeding, and perching.
Distribution of the Striped Maple
This tree is widely distributed over the northeastern quarter of the United States and southeastern Canada, including most of the counties of New York State. The natural range of the Striped Maple extends from Nova Scotia west to southern Ontario, Michigan, and eastern Minnesota. The Striped Maple grows south to northeastern Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It also grows in the mountains to northern Georgia.
In New York State, Striped Maples are present in most counties in the eastern part of the state. This species can be found in all counties in the Adirondack Park Blue Line.
Habitat of the Striped Maple
Striped Maple is a shade-tolerant species that grows best in dappled shade. It will not grow well in full sunlight. It prefers well-drained, acid soils. In contrast to Red Maple, Striped Maple is not tolerant of wet soils, and so this species is usually not found on the wetter marsh or boggy edges. Striped Maples are more commonly found in the drier and better-drained upland sites, growing as an understory tree in both northern hardwood and mixed wood forests.
In the Adirondack Park, Striped Maple can be found in a several ecological communities:
- In the Hemlock-northern Hardwood Forest – a mixed forest that is typically occurs on cool, mid-elevation slopes and on moist sites at the margins of swamps – look for Striped Maple growing under a canopy of Yellow Birch and Sugar Maple. Other trees in this ecological community include Red Maple, Eastern White Pine, and Black Cherry.
- The shrub layer includes Hobblebush, as well as saplings of canopy trees.
- The forest floor is often densely shaded, so the ground layer is relatively sparse. Characteristic wildflowers include Canada Mayflower, Wild Sarsaparilla, Partridgeberry, Common Wood Sorrel, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and Starflower.
- Characteristic ferns include Christmas Fern, wood ferns (such as the Intermediate Wood Fern), and Northern Lady Fern, with New York Ferns and Hay-scented Ferns appearing in canopy gaps.
- Birds frequently found in this ecological community include the Blue-headed Vireo, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Blackburnian Warbler.
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