Acer spicatum

Moose Maple

Moose Maple in bloom

Moose Maple in Bloom
Photo © by Earl J.S. Rook

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Acer, from the Latin for the maple tree
  • spicatum, from the Latin, "spiked", a reference to the distinctive spiked flower structure
  • Common Name from its largest mammalian associate and a recognition of its importance as a food source for moose and deer. While also known quite commonly as "Mountain Maple" we avoid that usage here to prevent confusion with Acer glabrum, the "Mountain Maple" of western North America.
  • Other common names include Mountain Maple, White Maple, Dwarf Maple, Low Maple, Water Maple, Moosewood, plaine batarde, érable fouereux


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Rosidae, the Roses
        • Order Sapindales
          • Family Aceraceae, the Maples
            • Genus Acer, the Maples
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 28758


  • A deciduous tall shrub/small tree to 25'
  • Leaves simple, opposite, and palmate; usually three lobed, with small, coarse, and irregular teeth; 2½"-4½"" long and 2/3 as wide.
    • Surface yellowish green above, with soft, whitish hairs below; in fall
    • Leafstalk slender, reddish, and typically longer than leafblade
    • Fall Color brilliant yellow and red.
  • Stem
    • short, often crooked, with a shrubby or clumped growth form.
    • bark smooth, thin, green when young, becoming reddish-brown, flaky or furrowed with age.
  • Roots shallow with majority growing close to the surface.
  • Flowers small, greenish; in cluster forming an erect, 3"-6" spike--unusual in Maples.
  • Fruit a two-winged red samara, in hanging clusters.
  • Height growth averages approximately 1' per year, with maximum growth occurring when plants are 5 to 10 years of age.
  • Plants become decadent at around 40 to 50 years of age. Older shrubs often produce more new vegetative growth than younger individuals


  • Identifiable as a maple by its characteristic "maple leaf"
  • Distinguished from other native maples by its smaller size, shrub-like growth habit, and, in spring, its distinctive, upright flower clusters.
  • Field Marks
    • 3-5 lobed "Mapleleaf"
    • upright flower cluster


  • Saskatchewan and Manitoba to the Maritimes, south to Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and down through the Appalachians to Mississippi and Georgia.


  • Cool woods with humid climate and year-round precipitation. Moderate moisture and nutrient requirements; low heat and light requirements. Prefers rich, moist soils on rocky slopes and flats, and along streams; also grows well on drier or well-drained acid soils. Can form a canopy on cliff faces. Aso occurs on talus slopes and in forested bogs.
  • Tolerant of deep shade but also grows well in sun; tolerates strong sun.
  • Understory light in which it most commonly occurs characterized by low, diffuse light punctuated by short pulses of sunflecks. Tendency to layer rapidly (unique among maples in its range) gives a competitive advantage in the exploitation of light gaps.
  • Colonizes the understory as pioneer tree species decline, and often dominates the understory with Beaked Hazel.
  • In undisturbed, mature Red Pine/White Pine communities in NE Minnesota, Moose Maple forms a dense, high shrub layer with Beaked Hazel and American Hazel that inhibits reproduction of later successional species such as Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) and spruce (Picea spp).
  • Occurs, usually as scattered clumps, in the understory of spruce/fir or Balsam Fir climax communities.





  • Sexually by seed, which is wind disseminated.
    • Flowers from May to June, after the leaves are fully developed. Unlike most maples, is insect pollinated.
    • Fruit ripens from mid-September to mid-October
  • Assexually by sprouting from underground, lateral stems and by layering. Root suckers are rare. The formation of clumps or colonies usually follows disturbance by browsing or cutting.
  • Does not build up a seedbank; more seed are found in seedfall then in seedbanks. Germination and seedling establishment are better on undisturbed soils. Seedling reproduction is less important than vegetative reproduction.


  • By seed, following cold stratification. Seeds need to be scarified and stratified for the most efficient germination. Seed propagation requires stratification of the samaras for 120 days at 5 °C.


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 2 (average minimum annual temperature -50ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Sun to partial shade
    • Cool, moist soil
  • Size 10'-20'W x 10'- 30'H
  • Growth rate slow to moderate
  • Good for naturalizing; not particularly well adapted to cultivation
  • Species available by mail order from specialty suppliers.



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Last updated on 14 June, 2005