Posted by Maxwell Siegel- A junior in the Rubenstein School at UVM who is interested in environmental studies, and specifically sustainability studies. Forests and nature in general has always been a passion of his worth pursuing.
The Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is an extremely common species of tree across the United States, whether they line urban avenues, or make up large portions of deciduous forest. One begins to wonder, “Why is a Norway maple growing in North America?” Most Americans are accustomed to the look of the Norway maple and do not question their presence in the United States. In fact, the leaf of the species is the trademark icon for my hometown of Maplewood, New Jersey. The Norway Mmaple is the maple that suburban and urban Americans think of. But when did this species make its way from Europe to North America, and how did it become so popular and widespread?
According to the USDA Forest Service Norway maple is the most widely distributed
native maple in Europe, existing in locations with elevations ranging from 0-6000 feet. The first Norway maples made it to the United States in 1756 but were relatively rare until the late 1800s when their popularity exploded. There are several reasons for the cultivation and spread of Norway maples throughout the Untied States. The first being the aesthetically pleasing color and shape the species presents, as well as its extremely immediate and sustained accelerated growth patterns. The species is well adapted to urban environments as it can withstand “moderate pollution, dusts, pavement and dry soil” (USDA forest service), making it an ideal species for lining urban and suburban streets and landscaping properties. They provide ample shade and can quickly become the centerpiece of a yard.
The true boom to the U.S Norway maple population came after Dutch Elm Disease
decimated the Elms across the nation, including all of the Elm that had previously lined roads.
The urban landscaping niche needed to be filled, and thus the Norway maple stepped into the batter’s box and has taken over the continent’s maple distribution and make-up. Here in urban Vermont these trees are quite common and fill their new niche rather well, making up for the disappearance of Elms along roadsides and in yards. Because they are fully capable of reproducing, the have spilled out of the concrete and are filling our forests as well. It can be estimated that Norway maples entered our state between 1860-1900 and “blossomed” between 1925 and 1950. In Centennial Woods, here in Burlington, the Norway maple thrives. It can live in varying soils because moisture is not a limiting factor. The largest Norway maple I have personally seen in Centennial Woods is in the North-Western section of the woods, and can be approximated to an age between 90-110 years old, dating it back to somewhere between 1902-1922. Another stand fills the gaps in an area that was selectively logged in the late 60s, regeneration from those first Norway maples that had since matured.
It is difficult to determine whether or not the species should be considered “invasive” or not, only because it can out compete native maples such as sugar (A. saccharinum) and red maples (A. rubrum). The diversity of maple species in Centennial Woods seems evenly distributed, however with more research a more accurate depiction of the impact of Norway maples could be determined. But that is for another time!