Acer negundo has a large native range throughout the southern and midwestern United States as well as parts of Canada. Usually found in bottomland forests and populating old homesteads. Its tolerance to extreme cold and drought has made this tree a survivor through much of the U.S. It can be used as a temporary planting, providing fast growth and shade while slower growing trees gain maturity. Wide, relatively shallow roots are perfect for erosion control.
This maple’s bark is furrowed and light gray, and the foliage is compound with three to five leaflets. Trees are dioecious, either male or female, the latter bearing winged samaras after eight years – a source of food for birds and small mammals.
Its common name, boxelder, conjures up visions of pesky beetles invading. The truth: Boxelder bugs dine mostly on the female flowers of A. negundo. I find them every year in my yard, but witness no damage from their presence. Large populations can enter homes during an early cold snap, but I've rarely heard of that that problem occurring in the south.
Native trees become yellow in fall. ‘Sensation’ is a male clone (seedless) that tops out at 30 feet. The autumn foliage of ‘Sensation’ is classic red.
Common Name: Boxelder tree
Botanical Name: Acer negundo
Zone: 2 to 10
Type of Plant: Tree
Size: 30-60 feet
Form: Narrow and rounded crown; spreading with age
Exposure: Sun. Young trees may appreciate some shade, but within two years need full sun exposure.
Soil: Average soil
Water: Like all maples, boxelder will look better with weekly summer water.
When to Fertilize: Apply all-purpose fertilizer lightly. High nitrogen fertilizers may create weak, rank growth.
In Your Landscape: Grow Acer negundo in mixed hardwood hedgerows and shelterbelts or in wildlife friendly plantings. Boxelder is a practical street tree or small garden addition.
Photos courtesy of LeeAnn Barton.