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Silver Maple vs Sugar Maple

Silver and sugar maple are easy to tell apart by leaf, buds, and growth habit. There only slight overlap in habitat: silver maple usually grows closer to water and sugar maple on well-drained sites.

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)

Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

A maple with deeply-lobed leaves, named for the silvery color of the backside of its leaves. Native to North America; common in floodplains and along rivers.
A shade-tolerant deciduous tree of the northeast, often associated with climax communities on rich, mesic sites.
Leaves deeply-cut, with irregularly serrated margins.
Photo © Mark Apgar, CC BY 4.0.
Lobes shallower. Leaves pointed at lobe tips, but leaf margins smooth between points, often forming U-shaped curves.
Photo © Yann Kemper, Public Domain.
Leaves silvery-white on underside.
Photo © Mark Apgar, CC BY 4.0.
Leaves the same color or only slightly lighter on underside.
Photo © Nate Martineau, CC BY 4.0.
Large, reddish buds round to blunt-tipped; 4 or fewer pairs of bud scales visible. Side buds often nearly as large as terminal buds.
Photo © randomrover, CC BY 4.0.
Much smaller terminal buds sharply pointed; 4-8 pairs of bud scales visible. Side buds much smaller than terminal buds and angle in the direction of the twig.
Photo © Quinten Wiegersma, CC BY 4.0.
Large samaras have elongated seeds that meet at a right angle at the base.
Photo © askalotl, Public Domain.
Smaller samaras have more spherical seeds, fused more horizontally at the base.
Photo © Rob Foster, CC BY 4.0.
In the wild, trees usually have multi-trunk growth habit, with trunks angled.
Photo © Sarah Johnson, CC BY 4.0.
Usually has single-trunk growth habit, with straight trunk branching only higher up.
Photo © Charlie Hohn, CC BY 4.0.
Fall color yellow to brownish, but many leaves drop when still green.
Photo © Laura Gaudette, CC BY 4.0.
Fall color variable, but usually includes vibrant reds and oranges in addition to yellow. Leaves usually retained on tree until they change color.
Photo © Tanja Miloti?, Public Domain.