Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)
Some of you may be wondering, of all great trees in the Greater Hamilton area, why start a series with the Norway maple? As its name suggests, it is not native to Canada. It does not live too long. It doesn’t grow to great heights. Between its dense canopy of leaves and an abundance of shallow roots, very little can grow. And even after cutting it down, its wood isn’t heavily prized. Heck, a Norway Maple can’t even be tapped for maple syrup.
So why begin a tour of our city’s trees by starting with the Norway maple?
It is for one simple reason – its abundance. Its sheer numbers cannot help but affect the beauty and habitability of our cities. If ever the Norway Maple experienced what Ash trees are currently experiencing with Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), then overnight we would lose much of our city’s canopy. Take a short walk down your street and chances are that you have crossed more than one Norway Maple.
The Norway maple was largely planted in the mid-20th century to replace Elm trees that suffered from an onslaught of Dutch Elm Disease. It was valued as being heavily tolerant to urban conditions such as soil compaction, air pollution, soil pollution, and is shade tolerant. In addition, it grows much faster than other maples and therefore could quickly replace the devastation from the loss of Elm trees.
Yet Norway maples suffer one major problem; they are invasive. They grow and reproduce quite rapidly, easily crowding out a diverse ecosystem composed of native vegetation such as the sugar maple. In addition, their roots tend to be quite shallow and thereby they easily out compete nearby plants for nutrient uptake. Combined with a very dense canopy and the end result is that little can grow underneath a Norway maple.
Food For Thought
Here is an interesting fact you may not know. The maple leaf on your brand new $20 polymer bill shares the closest resemblance to a Norway maple leaf over and above any native species from Canada. Whether you choose to applaud this bill as representative of Canada’s multiculturalism or scold it for rejecting Canada’s native vegetation, I will leave that up to you.