Surf Smelt
Sand Lance
Native Plants
Bald Eagle
Harbor Seal
Bigleaf Maple
Acer macrophyllum  

"Leaves shaped like some giants hand, give shade in the summer then go out in a blaze of yellow glory in the fall."

Arthur Kruckeberg, "The Natural History of Puget Sound Country."


Massive Maple

The bigleaf maple is the largest species of maple along Puget Sound. Thick limbs arch up to 100 feet, spreading over 60 feet at the crown. Leaves fan out to 15 inches wide.
Erosion Control  
A large, fast-growing tree, bigleaf maple needs plenty of space to grow. It thrives in poor gravelly soils and makes a massive root system on slopes, which makes it excellent for erosion control.  
Bigleaf Maple Basics

  • Broad-leaved deciduous tree.
  • Can live over 200 years.
  • Leaves leak a milky, sticky juice when broken.
  • Graceful greenish-yellow flowers, April through May.
  • Paired winged seeds "helicopter" to the ground.
  • Fall leaves turn golden yellow.


Moss On Maple

The bigleaf maple often wears a shaggy green coat of moss, lichen, and ferns. Thick mats of moss and lichen can create "soil" right on the bark. Bigleaf maple make special roots which tap this soil for nutrients. The heavy weight of wet moss can also break branches.


Maples Make Habitat

Fragrant yellow spring flowers are favored by honeybees and butterflies. The seeds or samaras are eaten by squirrels, chipmunks, and a variety of birds including finches and Evening Grosbeaks. Black-tailed deer, mule deer, and elk nibble on fresh leaves, twigs, and saplings. Leaning over beaches and nearshore waters, bigleaf maples make important shade for developing fish such as surf smelt.

Bigleaf Maple:
Concerns & Conservation

  • Avoid planting bigleaf maple near septic system drainfields or water lines. The fast-growing root system can block lines.
  • Bigleaf maple can drop leaves and large limbs. Consider removing branches that are hazardous to your home. Check with a qualified arborist for advice. Be sure to explain any concerns about slope hazards on your property.
  • Avoid topping. Topping will not make a bigleaf maple safer. In fact, a "topped" bigleaf maple can develop unsafe top-heavy growth. Consult an arborist for pruning advice.
  • Bigleaf maple is valuable to preserve on wooded sites, moist hillsides, and slopes with poor soil. In many cases, the wildlife and erosion control benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Related Topics

Trees: Nature's Erosion Control, Keeping trees and a view.
Landscaping, Planning an easy-care, natural landscape.
Construction, Protecting your property.

Related Links

Bigleaf Maple, Native Plants, Washington State University. Basic description, cultivation, propagation.  

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Comments? E-mail: Shellyne Grisham