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Box Elder (Acer negundo)

Also known as Boxelder, Ash-leaved Maple, Ashleaf Maple, Maple Ash, Manitoba Maple, Elf Maple.

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Summary

A maple with compound leaves, native across North America, coast-to-coast, common in riparian areas and near wetlands.

Range - Expand

This map is based on the FHWA's ERA. This data overestimates native ranges, especially around the edges, as this post explains. We have not yet reviewed this map.

USDA Plants Profile for Acer negundo

Illinois Wildflowers Page for Acer negundo

Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) Article for Acer negundo

Similar Plants

Eastern Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
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Habitat

Mostly found in floodplains and riparian forests, where it is sometimes a dominant plant. Tolerant of flooding, and drought-tolerant once established. However, prefers well-drained soils.

Does not reproduce in its own shade.

Life Cycle

Seeds germinate in spring after a period of cold dormancy. Seedlings can germinate in exposed soil following disturbance, but can also establish under existing vegetation.

Growth is rapid, often 2 feet or more per year. The root system is usually shallow and spreading, but may become deeper if the soil allows.

Seed production is consistent every year. Seeds are primarily dispersed by wind, but also by animals. Seeds often fall in winter where they spread longer distances across the surface of snow, than they would without snow cover in a forested landscape.

Trees typically live 75 years, but may live as long as 100, making this a relatively short-lived species. Older branches become brittle and break easily.

Vegetative reproduction is common and trees will resprout heavily if damaged.

Uses

The wood of this species is largely undesirable. It is soft and low in strength, and also makes poor firewood. It is occasionally used for cheap, rough purposes.

This species is rarely used as a landscaping plant, where it is valued for its rapid growth and resistance to drought, cold, and urban conditions. It is typically avoided due to its sprawling, irregular growth habit, often producing abundant suckers when planted in a yard or as a street tree, its brittle wood and tendency to drop branches, and its propensity to attract large numbers of box-elder bugs, which often come into homes.

The sap has a high sugar content and can be used to produce syrup like that of the sugar maple.

Notes

Some of its common names reference its superficial similarity to ash trees, with which it shares the characteristics of oppositely-arranged compound leaves.

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