Monday, July 11, 2011

Big Leaf Maple- the Big Giving Trees of the Pacific Northwest

These large sprawling trees are a common sight in the South End Seattle, so common in fact, that one rarely takes a second glance.

A closer look is however warranted for these wonderful and important trees in our neighborhood. These native maple trees can be found from California to Alaska, but are at their peak form here along the Oregon and Washington coasts and British Columbia. 

The name Bigleaf Maple (Acer Macrophyllum), or Broadleaf Maple as it is sometimes called, is obvious, since some individual leaves can reach a foot or more across. The trees themselves can top over 100 feet tall and are fast growing, making them excellent for creating shade or for large natural gardens with plenty of room.

Bigleaf  Maples are wonderful hosts for natural plants such as moss and ferns. Seward Park has excellent examples of Bigleaf Maples covered in a green coat of ferns and moss along their trunks and limbs. Crows often nest in the higher branches, which also provide cover for many other native birds, squirrels, raccoons, possum as well as insects. Their heavy leaf fall in autumn may be a bane to those growing a lawn, but it is actually a wonderful enrichment to the forest floor. The plentiful seeds these trees produce are food for birds, squirrels and rodents as well.

Bigleaf Maples have extensive root systems that are ideal for holding on to steep slopes and wet forest floors, just don’t plant them near water mains, as they are known to damage underground pipes. Topping these trees is not only unsightly but defeats the purpose if a better view is desired, since doing so not only encourages twice as much growth, but also produces weaker trees and limbs more likely to break.  It’s better to get a trained arborist in to carefully thin the growth, or to remove the tree entirely and plant something more low growing.

The wood of the Bigleaf Maple is commonly cut and used for firewood, but it is also prized by crafts people, and commonly used in piano frames. The wood is not as dense as sugar or Eastern maple, so it is easier to work with, and the burl, or densely figurative growths found on some mature trees and its roots, is very decorative and sought after for furniture, turning and ornamental uses.

And did you know you can also make maple syrup from Big Leaf Maple sap?  Every February there is a Big Leaf Maple Syrup festival on Vancouver Island.

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Acticle writen originally for the Southend Seattle blog

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