Though often classified in the family to which they give their name, Aceraceae, Maples are more properly considered part of the related Sapindaceae, which consists of 140-150 genera and between 1400 and 2000 species—trees, herbaceous perennials, lianas—that are distributed widely throughout the world. Generally, these species have pinnately compound leaves, small flowers, and dry, fleshy fruits.
Acer is a genus of about 125 species, most of which are deciduous trees, though there are also evergreens and shrubby species. The genus tends to establish dense root systems, and is primarily distinguished by its oppositely arranged, mostly palmate leaf configuration. Maples flower in late winter or early spring, and their vivid fall foliage often draws vast amounts of urban dwellers into the countryside. Beyond their popularity as ornamentals, Maples also serve as parts of collections, as integral parts of local tourism industries, as timber, as raw materials for the production of musical instruments, and, of course, as sources of the sap that is eventually converted to maple sugar and maple syrup.
Acer macrophyllum, the tree featured in today’s photo, can grow to a height of 30 metres and to a trunk diameter of 1.5 metres. When mature, its trunk is sheathed in an intricately interlaced bark of dark brown. As its name suggests, A. macrophyllum grows the largest leaves of any Maple. Trees generally establish in moist soil near water and are adapted to growing under a canopy. Bigleaf Maple’s hard wood is used in the production of furniture, instruments, veneer, and other commercial products as well.