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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.

References & External Resources

These short lists show only links helpful for ID. For a complete list of references and resources also covering other aspects of ecology, visit the links section of the full article on each plant, whcih is the first entry here.

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

Acer platanoides | Go Botany (About This Site)

Acer saccharum | Go Botany (About This Site)

Acer platanoides (Norway Maple) | Illinois Wildflowers (About This Site)

Acer saccharum (Sugar Maple) | Illinois Wildflowers (About This Site)

Norway Maple | Virginia Tech Dendrology Factsheets (About This Site)

Sugar Maple | Virginia Tech Dendrology Factsheets (About This Site)

Acer platanoides | Biota of North America Project (BONAP) (About This Site)

Acer saccharum | Biota of North America Project (BONAP) (About This Site)