I use the term magical to describe the maples of North Carolina, because they are, in my opinion, one of the most popular and most beautiful of all of the NC natives. No matter what variety you speak of, it is sure to be a dazzling spectacle of color in the fall. There are more than 125 species of maples in the world. Most of which are native to Asia. There are only 13 that are native to the United States. Just a few of those are native to NC that can be found in abundance.
Southern sugar maples, Florida maples, chalk maples, and black maples are all sub-species of sugar maples found from Southern Virginia to Florida. So, You don’t have to look very far to find one in North Carolina. They easily adapt to most soil, light, and moisture. The poorest of these circumstances generally only affect the size of these maples. In addition, the Southern sugar maple can be easily identified by its leaves that present with 3 to 5 shallow lobes. and the underside is a very pale green or white color and is often slightly fuzzy. Native Americans taught early settlers how to tap the trees to drain sap for maple syrup. Today, maple syrup is a multi-billion dollar industry. Some sugar maples in western NC are tapped for sugar.
Working at the nursery, I have encountered many people in search of red maple. However, they don’t want a red maple. They want a RED maple, such as the Crimson King. It is a Norway maple and has dark red or burgundy foliage and is NOT native to the United States. A true red maple is only red at the stem and the leaves turn red in the fall and is native to North America. It is specifically one of the few that are native to North Carolina and is easily identified by its tri-lobed leaf that has a v shape and the margins or outer edges are saw-toothed. The stems and some of the veining close to the stem are red. The leaves are the main reason so many people have this tree in their landscape. As fall approaches the leaves will turn a brilliant red before they fall to the ground on most years. Depending on the moisture and temperatures, some years they turn yellow or orange.
Acer Negundo, commonly known as a box elder or ash leaf maple, is indeed a maple as well. Since its appearance is so different than the others you may walk right by it and never realize it is indeed a maple. This would be an interesting seekers’ journey for the kids, to locate all the maple trees they can find and learn to identify each sub-species.
Choosing to plant native trees is a responsible choice for the local ecosystem. They support both flora and fauna in ways that non-native trees cannot. So, plant responsibly, plant native.