Boxelder Tree Information – Learn About Boxelder Maple Trees

Boxelder Tree Information – Learn About Boxelder Maple Trees

By: Teo Spengler

What is a boxelder tree? Boxelder (Acer negundo) is a fast-growing maple tree native to this country. Read on for additional boxelder tree information.

Boxelder Tree Information

What is a boxelder tree? It’s an easy-to-grow, very adaptable maple. The wood of boxelder maple trees is soft and has no commercial value. Boxelder maple tree facts tell us that this maple usually grows on river banks or near water in the wild. These trees help to shelter wildlife and stabilize stream banks. However, in urban areas, they are considered a type of weed.

Some boxelder maple trees are male and some are female. The females bear blossoms that turn bright green when they are pollinated. They can add color to your spring garden. However, most experts do not recommend that gardeners begin boxelder maple tree growing, nor are they very popular garden plants.

Boxelder maple tree facts tell us that these trees have brittle, weak wood. That means that the trees break easily in wind and ice storms. In addition, boxelder maple tree information confirms that the tree seeds, found in winged samaras, germinate very easily. This can make them a nuisance in a private garden.

Finally, female trees attract boxelder bugs. These are insects some ½ inch (1 c.) long that don’t cause many problems in the garden. However, boxelder bugs are problematic as winter comes on. They like to overwinter indoors, and you’ll likely find them inside your house.

Boxelder Maple Tree Growing

If you decide to plant one of these trees, you’ll need to get information about boxelder maple tree growing. Given the tree’s tolerance and adaptability, boxelder maple trees are not difficult to grow in the proper climate.

These trees can grow in almost any mild, cool or cold region in the United States. In fact, they thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 9.

Plant your boxelder near a stream or river, if possible. They tolerate most soils, including sand and clay, growing happily in dry or wet soil. However, they are sensitive to salt spray.

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Jean-Pol GRANDMONT/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

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Jean-Pol GRANDMONT/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

Because of its drought and cold resistance, the boxelder tree has been widely planted in the Great Plains region and at lower elevations in the West as a street tree and in windbreaks. Although the species is not an ideal ornamental, being "trashy," poorly formed, and short-lived, numerous ornamental cultivars of boxelder are propagated in Europe. Its fibrous root system and prolific seeding habit have led to its use in erosion control in some parts of the world.

Boxelder Basics

The scientific name of boxelder is Acer negundo (AY-ser nuh-GUHN-doe). Common names include ashleaf maple, Manitoba maple, and poison ivy tree and the tree is a member of the plant family Aceraceae. Although considered by many a "maple outcast", it is indeed in the maple family and the only native maple with more than one single blade or leaflet on a single leaf stalk.

Boxelder grows in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 8 and is native to North America. The tree is sometimes crafted into a bonsai specimen but often used as a screen/ windbreak and for land reclamation. It grows rapidly, can become very large and needs a lot of space. Boxelder is still a very common tree to see in a yard or park west of the Mississippi River.​

Plant Library

Sensation Boxelder foliage

Sensation Boxelder foliage

Other Names: Manitoba Maple

A fast-growing cultivar selected for its shapely growth habit and striking red fall color, very atypical of this species a superb choice for a fall-coloring shade tree in tough northern locations

Sensation Boxelder has light green foliage throughout the season. The compound leaves turn an outstanding indian red in the fall. Neither the flowers nor the fruit are ornamentally significant.

Sensation Boxelder is a deciduous tree with a more or less rounded form. Its relatively coarse texture can be used to stand it apart from other landscape plants with finer foliage.

This tree will require occasional maintenance and upkeep, and should only be pruned in summer after the leaves have fully developed, as it may 'bleed' sap if pruned in late winter or early spring. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Sensation Boxelder is recommended for the following landscape applications

Sensation Boxelder will grow to be about 30 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 25 feet. It has a high canopy with a typical clearance of 7 feet from the ground, and should not be planted underneath power lines. As it matures, the lower branches of this tree can be strategically removed to create a high enough canopy to support unobstructed human traffic underneath. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 50 years or more.

This tree should only be grown in full sunlight. It is an amazingly adaptable plant, tolerating both dry conditions and even some standing water. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments. This is a selection of a native North American species.

Boxelder (Acer negundo)

“That’s a real junkyard dog.” -Gary Johnson, Professor of Urban Forestry

Sometimes known as Manitoba maple or ash-leaved maple, boxelder (Acer negundo) is in fact a sneaky member of the maple genus, with uncommon, pinnately compound leaves. The leaflets are lobed with 3-5 teeth each, and do not bear an obvious resemblance to the classic maple leaf shape. They’re also dioicus, with seperate male and female trees, unlike other maples. The female trees do produce seeds as the familiar, winged samaras. Its bark is usually lighter brown and furrowed. At the time of posting, the buds on the largest MN specimen (located in Minneapolis and pictured below) were certainly beginning to break.

Boxelder often gets a bum reputation from people in the urban forestry field, and while that’s certainly not unfounded, some of its undesirable traits are also the ones that can make it so valuable. Above all, it’s a survivor. There is clear evidence of this in its sprawling range: it is present in and native to all 48 of the contiguous United States, as well as all six ecoregions in Minnesota, and extending into much of Canada. Further, its prolific seeding and tolerance of almost any poor soil or growing condition mean that it often fills in disturbed and poor sites where other, less gritty species are unable to survive. It will tolerate a moderate amount of deicing salt spray and soils that are compacted, poorly draining, clay, droughty, and alkaline. It is even extremely cold hardy into Zone 2 or 3.

These characteristics explain its reputation. Growing in those poor, unmaintained areas with poor form and structure set it up to be an unappealing sight for many. It is also relatively weak wooded, making it more prone to storm damage, especially in locations where it has been growing without proper care and maintenance. Though, while these are real issues for urban trees, a regular pruning cycle can promote strong branch unions and better form and is not any more intensive than caring for other young trees. The form of the state champ specimen is pictured below.

Overall, with proper consideration and care, boxelder has some serious potential. It can fill in tricky gaps in sites and locations where it’s hard to find anything else to grow. Its tough characteristics can also help it thrive in a variety of good growing conditions, not just the toughest ones.

Acer negundo. The Missouri Botanical Garden. Accessed March 17, 2020. https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a841

Boxelder. The Morton Arboretum. Accessed March 17, 2020. https://www.mortonarb.org/trees-plants/tree-plant-descriptions/boxelder

Jan Samanek, Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org

Dan Petters, University of Minnesota, Department of Forest Resources

Box Elder is a Low Maintenance, Fast Growing, Flowering Tree

Certain Native American tribes used the Box Elder Maple Tree's sweet sap as a form of sugar. This fast-growing tree lives up to sixty years with mature growth up to 50-80 feet. It is famous as a shade tree in landscaping. Native to North America, the hardiest growing zones are 3-8 with plenty of sunlight. There are many famous names including, ash-leaved maple and maple ash. It is the only member of the maple family to have compound leaves with three to seven leaflets. The maple name was derived from its white wood similar to boxwood and its leaf formation that reminds one of an elder tree.

Boxwood Elder is Adaptable to Many Soil Conditions and is Attractant to Birds and Squirrels for its Seed Production

Flowering in the spring, the blooms are without petals, yellow-green in color, and dioecious. Seed pods prolifically form in the fall and are called Samaras. The pods are less than an inch long and can remain on the tree during the winter. Their leaves are light green, turning to yellow in the fall. Cultivators can be found that give golden or pink-tinged fall foliage.

The seeds are a food source for birds and squirrels being favored by the evening grosbeak. Wood fiber from this tree is used to make fiberboard and decorative items for the home such as turned bowls, writing pens, and wooden stemware. Native Americans tribes had many uses for this tree, some considered sacred. Decoctions were made from the inner bark that was used as an emetic for healing as well as charcoal made from the wood used for tattooing or ceremonial markings. Candy was made mixing the sugary sap with scrapings from animal hides. The oldest native flutes found were made from maple trees.

The Acer Negundo tree, also known by its common name The Box Elder Tree, is a member of the Sapindaceae family and is found through the Northern Hemisphere. The tree grows best in full, direct sunlight, and the tree primarily blooms during the mid-Spring months of March and April.

It is a very low-maintenance tree, and the Box Elder is well-adapted to many different types of soils. The tree grows in wet and medium-moisture soils alike, and also grows well in dry soil. Maximum heights of the tree typically reach up to 50 feet tall, with some trees growing as large as 70 feet high.

With a wide range of environments that the tree is well-adapted for, the tree found throughout the continental 48 states. The leaves of the tree often bare a similar appearance to the leaves of the poison ivy plant, and the tree leaves are a moderate green color. In the months of the Fall, the leaves are known to turn medium-yellowish, and during the Spring the tree features bright yellow-green flowers that arrange themselves in bunches along the stems.

Due to its rapid growth process and it's large maximum height, the Box Elder Tree most frequently used in landscaping projects as a means of shade.

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