A Guide to the Bigleaf Maple

Tag Number: 676

Scientific Name: Acer Macrophyllum

Acer means sharp and refers to the appearance of points along the leaf, while macro and phyllum together form the words large-leaf.

Common Names


Naturally ranges from British Columbia through most of California, west of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada. It thrives in moist ground and is found along roadsides and in parks.


The Bigleaf Maple is aptly named for the enormity of its leaves, which commonly stretch a foot in both length and width; the leaf stem is nearly as long as the leaf. These qualities, combined with its broad-reaching branches, create an ideal shade tree with leaves that rustle in the wind.


Between the last weeks of April and early May, groups of flowers emerge just before or during the time the leaves begin to appear. In most states, including Oregon, the leaves turn a bright orangy-yellow in autumn. In California, they become a paler yellow. When the leaves no longer cling to the tree, the V-shaped, winged seeds (samaras) are released and spin to the ground. They are often snatched up by birds and squirrels for sustenance and by young children who entertain themselves by throwing them above their heads to watch the seeds twirl downward.


Bigleaf Maples aggravate foresters following clear-cutting and fires, because they compete with evergreen trees for sunlight, since their initial growth can reach 3 meters in one year. However, the burls in the wood of the maples that do not grow in the forest (Maples in the forest are often spindly.) make remarkable furniture, boats, and floors of significant value. Guns crafted using the burls were prized by both the Indians and northwestern pioneers. The artisans of Italy and France treasure making crafts from the burls as well. The hardwood not used for decorative purposes is of high quality. Several million feet a year are harvested for use in buildings. It was previously used for building wagons and canoe paddles by Indians (thus the name Paddle Tree). The wood not used in construction is good as firewood. Mosses and plants surround the trunk and branches of this tree more than any other in the Pacific Northwest; this surrounding foliage is used by tree seedlings as a soil. The majority of moss-covered trees in the temperate rainforests of Washington's Olympic Peninsula are Bigleaf Maples.


The Saanich, or aboriginal nations from the Olympic Peninsula, rubbed this tree's leaves along their faces to deter thick beard growth. Further, they used mixtures created with the maple to relieve sore throats. Although sap from this tree can be utilized to make sugar and maple syrup, the indigenous nations did not do this. Normally, Eastern Sugar Maples were used to make syrup, because less quantities of sap are required from this tree to create it.

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