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Norway Maple vs Sugar Maple

These plants are often confused due to similarity in leaf shape and occurrence in the same habitat; they are easily distinguished by samaras, flowers, mature tree bark, buds, or the presence/absence of milky sap. Leaf shape can be distinguished, but is best supplemented by other cues. Although there is much overlap in habitat, Norway maple is found on a broader range of sites, including disturbed habitats, whereas sugar maple is more limited to rich, mesic sites.

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

A shade-tolerant tree native to Europe and Western Asia. Widely used as a landscape plant, and has become invasive in North America in the mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest.
A shade-tolerant deciduous tree of the northeast, often associated with climax communities on rich, mesic sites.
Broader-based leaves 5-7-lobed. Side lobes usually extend as wide or wider than front 3 lobes. Front 3 lobes often wider at the base.
Photo © Andrew Conboy, CC BY 4.0.
Leaves 5-lobed. Side lobes usually greatly diminished, much less wide than diagonal front-side lobes. Front 3 lobes often widen towards the tip.
Photo © Yann Kemper, Public Domain.
Samaras spread more horizontally when hanging. Seed very flat.
Photo © Andrew Conboy, CC BY 4.0.
Samaras more downward-oriented when hanging. Seed round and not flat.
Photo © Rob Foster, CC BY 4.0.
Bark of mature trees has fine, regularly-spaced ridges.
Photo © Katja Schulz, CC BY 4.0.
Bark variable, but more irregular on mature trees, often with larger, coarser ridges.
Photo © Katja Schulz, CC BY 4.0.
Terminal buds larger, reddish-brown, rounded or blunt-tipped, usually only 3-4 pairs of bud scales visible.
Photo © Quinten Wiegersma, CC BY 4.0.
Terminal buds smaller, brown, sharply pointed, 4-8 pairs of bud scales visible.
Photo © Quinten Wiegersma, CC BY 4.0.
Flowers in upright, rounded clusters.
Photo © Katja Schulz, CC BY 4.0.
Flowers in drooping clusters.
Photo © Christine McAnlis, CC BY 4.0.
Leaf stalks exude a milky sap if cut or plucked.
Photo © Michael Ellis, CC BY 4.0.
Lacks milky sap.
Photo © , .
Autumn color usually yellow. Less often red. Leaves change color late and are often retained longer on tree.
Photo © Katja Schulz, CC BY 4.0.
Autumn color variable but often includes oranges and reds. Usually starts changing color earlier.
Photo © Tanja Miloti?, Public Domain.
Purple-leaf cultivars are widely planted, which retain a dark purple color during the growing season. Their offspring may retain some purple-bronze color.
Photo © miquelon, CC BY 4.0.
Leaves always green during growing season. Occasionally foliage will be reddish when leafing out.
Photo © Joanne Redwood, Public Domain.