Snakebark Maple: Bark, leaves, Size, Lifespan – Identification Guide

The Snakebark Maple is a small to medium-sized, deciduous tree that is part of the Acer genus, known for its distinctive bark. The bark of the Snakebark Maple is smooth and olive green, streaked with vertical green and white stripes, which gives it a distinctive appearance. This feature is most prominent on young trees and can fade as the tree matures.

Snakebark Maple was first described by Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, in 1753. Linnaeus named it Acer pensylvanicum, with “Acer” referring to the genus of maple trees and “pensylvanicum” indicating its association with Pennsylvania, one of the regions where it was initially identified.

Snakebark Maples are native to eastern Asia and eastern North America. In the wild, Snakebark Maple often grows as an understory tree in moist, rocky forests, particularly along streamsides, preferring partial shade and well-drained, moist soils. They are relatively hardy compared to many other species of maples and are often cultivated as ornamental trees for their attractive bark.

The Snakebark Maple is part of the Macrantha taxonomic section of maples, which includes 18-21 species which are restricted to eastern Asia (the eastern Himalaya east to Japan). The most common species of Snakebark Maple in North America is Acer pensylvanicum, also known as the striped maple or moosewood. This species is native to the eastern United States, from Nova Scotia to Wisconsin and south through the Appalachians to northern Georgia.

The leaves of the Snakebark Maple are ovate and unlobed, growing in an opposite leaf arrangement. They are dark green and have serrated or doubly serrated margins. In the fall, the leaves turn bright yellow, providing a burst of color before they drop.

Snakebark Maples are relatively fast-growing when young but soon slow down with age. They reach heights of 30-50 feet and widths of 20-40 feet, but they can be smaller in some cases. They have a rounded but uneven crown that is sometimes flat-topped.

The tree has also been known by several other names, including striped maple, moosewood, and goosefoot maple. These names often reflect the tree’s physical characteristics or its wildlife associations. For example, “moosewood” references the fact that moose and white-tailed deer often browse the leaves and young twigs of this tree.

Identifying Physical Characteristics Snakebark Maple

  • Size and Shape: It is a small to medium size tree growing 30-50 feet tall and 20-40 feet wide. It has a rounded but uneven crown that is sometimes flat-topped.
  • Bark: Young trees have smooth bark that matures to an exfoliating bark with vertical stripes that resemble snakeskin. These stripes are green and white or red and white.
  • Leaves: These maples have ovate, dark green leaves that are typically 3-6 inches long. The leaves have serrated or doubly serrated margins and are unlobed or weakly 3-lobed. The undersides of the leaves are paler than the tops.
  • Flowers: Produce small, yellow flowers in the spring. The flowers are borne in clusters on drooping racemes.
  • Fruit: The fruit is a samara, a winged nut that helps the seeds disperse in the wind. The samaras are small and often produced in abundance.
  • Other Characteristics: The tree is relatively fast-growing when young but slows down with age.

Habitat and Growing Conditions

  • It prefers partial shade and can tolerate heavy shade.
  • It prefers well-drained, moist soils. It can tolerate acidic soils.
  • It is relatively fast-growing when young but soon slows down with age.
  • Potential disease problems include verticillium wilt, leaf spots, tar spot, canker, and root rots. Potential insect problems include aphids, scale, borers, and caterpillars.

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