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Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

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Norway Maple

Summary

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.

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Habitat

In its native habitat, Norway maple is primarily found in lowland areas and low uplands, and also grows in mixed deciduous/coniferous forest. The habitat requirements of this species in North America are not well understood.

This tree is very shade tolerant, more so than all but a few deciduous trees in North America, but it can also tolerate high light conditions, even full sun, with sufficient moisture. It prefers deep and well-drained soils, high nitrogen availability, and mesic conditions. It is rare on acidic soils, and has more stunted growth on sandy soils. It response to fire is not well-known.

Found in a variety of different deciduous woodlands, and some mixed deciduous-coniferous woodland; its range and prevalence may be expanding. Most often found in small woodland fragments in suburbs and cities, near where it is planted, but has also invaded natural woodlands.

This species may be less adapted to North America's unpredictable climate than the more predictable, moderate climate of Europe. Although its absolute tolerance of cold is high, it can be damaged by early severe cold in autumn.

Habitat preferences overlap with those of the native Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), and the two species can be found growing together, but Norway maple is more tolerant of urban conditions, including slightly drier and nutrient-poor conditions, pollution, and disturbance.

Life Cycle

Seeds germinate in spring on the surface of the ground and spread their cotyledons; true leaves are grown around 3 weeks after germination.

Seedlings are vulnerable to temperature extremes; sufficient cold can kill the young leaves, although the cotyledons are slightly more cold-tolerant than leaves. Snow may protect seedlings from cold damage.

Seedlings are highly shade-tolerant and will grow even in low light conditions. Seedlings in shade grow slowly and persist for years, until taking advantage of a gap.

Age of first seed production is variable; seeds may be produced as young as 10 years but this may be much later in shade-suppressed trees. Seed production tends to peak between 20 and 60 years of age. Some seeds are produced every year, but bumper crops may occur at 2-3 year intervals. Flowering occurs in the spring, around when the tree is leafing out, and flowers are insect-pollinated. The seeds mature slowly and are not distributed until fall; they are enclosed in a samara and are wind-dispersed. The samara is wider and flatter than most other maples.

Germination is enhanced by soil disturbance, and inhibited somewhat by deep litter, but contact with mineral soil is not required.

In their native range, trees typically live to an age of about 150 years, possibly as long as 250; max lifespan in the wild in North America is not well-known but may be dramatically shorter.

Plants that are top-killed will resprout vigorously.

Faunal Associations

Although native maples (Acer sp.) support a variety of insects, and this species supports many insects in its native range, in North America it is eaten by few insects. It likely has unique defenses that make it harder for native insects specializing on maples to consume, such as the milky sap, a feature native maples lack.

The introduced Norway Maple aphid (Periphyllus lyropictus) is a specialist on this species, and it has been found in the U.S., both in the area around New York City, and in the northwest. The introduced Asian longhorn beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis) has been found eating this tree, among numerous other species; it has been widely introduced in North America but is viewed as invasive and has been intentionally eradicated from some areas.

The flowers are pollinated by both native and non-native bees, including honeybees, bumblebees, and Andrenid bees.

Uses

Widely cultivated as a landscaping plant, although its use for this purpose is decreasing as this plant is widely considered to be invasive and damaging to wild ecosystems. Although it is easy to grow, it can be a poor choice of a landscaping plant because its aggressive surface roots can heave sidewalks and both the surface roots and slow-to-decompose foliage can make it hard to garden under.

Cultivars exist with dark purple leaves.

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