Horticulture Highlight: Striped maple, Moosewood

November 3, 2021

A striped blouse in a clearing by Bazille

Is, you may say, a patroness of boughs

Too queenly kind toward nature to be kin…

            -Richard Wilbur

Acer pensylvanicum, Striped maple, Moosewood is a small tree or a large shrub which in changing phases of youth may display attractive green bark with white or pale striping. These most striking colors will evolve with age to green or reddish-gray bark with black stripes. Occasionally there may be individuals with dark-reddish-brown bark and black stripes. While this bark is not as eye-catching as some of our paperbark maple, stewartia, paper birch, river birch, lacebark pine or lacebark elm, it’s subtle interest is still worth a moment’s contemplation and perhaps a photo to share.

Winter bark of the Striped maple, also called Moosewood tree.

Green, scaly moosewoods ascend.

Tenants of the shaken paradise,

            -Galway Kinnell

Native from Quebec to Wisconsin, south to northeastern Ohio, Pennsylvania and only in the higher Appalachian elevations south even to Georgia. This forest understory plant, prefers shady, cool, moist, north-facing slopes and ravines, rarely reaches more than 30-feet in height and is not long-lived. The opposite, 5 to 7-inch-long leaves have three (five) forward-pointing lobes, which display a vibrant yellow autumn foliage. One of the seven maple species native to New England (Acer saccharum, A. rubrum, A. saccharinum, A. nigrum, A. negundo, A. spicatum) the preference moose have for browsing on its branches justifies one of its common names.

feeding on pondweed, head submerged up to huge ears

that swivel in the breezy world.

At last he lugs up his long face,

preposterous mouth soppy with aquatic greens,

gawking with incredulity…

-Robert Wiljer

Moose in a lake

During May slender 4 to 6-inch long racemes hold several 1/3-inch in diameter dioecious flowers that are predominantly male or female on different plants. However, this species exhibits gender diphasy. Virginia Wolf (1882-1941) once wrote, “In each of us two powers preside, one male, one female.” Richard Primack (1950-), notable biologist researched this reality with Acer pensylvanicum, Striped maple, Moosewood. From Harvard University’s Arnoldia in 2004 he wrote, “…Individuals of this species often form clumps of woody shoots that produce male flowers for a few years, followed by female flowers and fruit production for a few years, until the shoot dies. The rootstalk sometimes produces many shoots, each one going through this cycle…” When living through a female (pistalate) cycle the fruits (samaras) occur dangling on short racemes.

Acer pensylvanicum, Striped maple, Moosewood with its striated bark is the only North American representative of the worldwide group of so-called snakebark maples. Taxonomically within the Acer section Macrantha, there are fourteen other species having expressions of striped bark, all native to Asia.

From autumn leaf drop and throughout the winter look closer at some of our Striped maple, Moosewood on Dell Path and Sumac Path.

About the Author: Jim Gorman

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