University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
ALTERNATIVES TO THE NORWAY MAPLE
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
Norway maple is an invasive plant you
should not put in landscapes, and for which there are several good
alternatives. This maple tolerates heavy
shade, so establishes well in woodlands where birds drop their seeds. There, with their own heavy canopies, they
shade out native wildflowers. Their
shallow roots compete in forests with other less vigorous native vegetation.
Norway maple is the most prevalent maple in
Europe, occurring from Norway
to Iran. Seedlings first were introduced to this
country by the famous nurseryman and explorer John Bartram in 1756. Similar to many such plants, its invasive
tendencies didn’t become noticed until much later. In the early 1900’s the first records note it
“occasionally escaped.” Today, it is on
invasive plant lists in many states, and banned from further planting in
The Norway maple (Acer platanoides)
is widely planted in landscapes and along streets. Grown for its vigor, adaptability, and cool
shade it provides, it has drawbacks even in landscapes. The shallow, dense roots compete with lawns
and many less vigorous landscape plants.
The seedlings can be a problem in home landscapes just as they are in
natural ones. Often seen is the dark
red-leaved cultivar (cultivated variety) ‘Crimson King’.
Both the red and sugar maples are
alternative choices to the Norway maple.
Both reach a similar height of 50 to 70 feet as the Norway maple. They are native, hardy, and have attractive
seasonal foliage. The red maple (Acer
rubrum) has red spring color when in bloom, and yellow to
red leaves in fall. Most know the
attractive leaves of Vermont’s
state tree, the sugar maple (Acer saccharum). The red maple tolerates wet soils better than
the sugar maple, but is not as drought tolerant.
When looking for these trees, consider
one of their many cultivars varying in habit and fall leaf color. Some of the more hardy red maples include
‘Autumn Flame’, Red Sunset, and ‘Northwood’.
A bit less hardy red maples (USDA zone 5) include ‘October Brilliance’
and ‘October Glory’. Then there are the
hybrids (x freemanii) of red maple with the silver maple, having the
best features of both. Autumn Blaze and Celebration are two of these hardy hybrids.
‘Legacy’ and ‘Commemoration’ (the latter
less hardy) are two of the newer cultivars of sugar maple with a widespread
habit. ‘Goldspire’ and Apollo are hardy
sugar maples with a columnar habit.
In addition to these alternatives to the
Norway maple, the northern red oak makes a nice shade tree for lawns and
landscapes. The northern red oak (Quercus
rubra) is fast growing, hardy, native, reaches 50 to 70 feet high, and has
a rounded crown or shape. This state
tree of New Jersey
tolerates a range of soils and conditions, but doesn’t do well in alkaline
(high pH) or poorly drained soils.
White ash (Fraxinus americana) reaches a similar height to
the Norway maple and other alternatives, is fast-growing, but may be
short-lived because of ash decline and other diseases. Fall leaves are an attractive yellow to
reddish purple. Since the species can
produce many nuisance seedlings, and the bark may crack in winter, you should
plant one of the cultivars without these problems. ‘Chicago Regal’ gets about 30 feet high, with
purple fall leaves. Northern Blaze
reaches a similar height to the species, and also has purple fall leaves.
Another alternative to the Norway maple
sometimes recommended is the American linden
(Tilia americana). This native tree also is fast growing, with a
similar height and shape to the Norway maple.
It is not the best choice for landscapes as its seeds can be a nuisance,
it can sprout shoots from the base of the trunk, and it is attacked by many
pests. Littleleaf linden (Tilia
cordata) and its cultivars grow at a medium rate, a bit shorter, and make
better choices for formal landscape trees without many problems.
‘Greenspire’ is a popular and fast
growing cultivar of littleleaf linden, but with narrow branch angles may be
injured in snow and ice. Shamrock is
similar, only more sturdy. Good newer
cultivars from related species include the upright ‘Harvest Gold’ with its
unusual deeply cut leaves and gold fall color, and ‘Sterling’ with its attractive leaves silvery
on the bottom. For this reason it is
often seen as Sterling Silver linden.
European beech (Fagus sylvatica)
makes a good choice for warmer landscapes (USDA zone 5), having attractive
smooth gray bark, and with a variety of shapes and sizes and leaf colors. The species will make a low-branched pyramid
shape, growing faster when young. There
are several dark-leaved cultivars such as ‘Cuprea’ with coppery leaves, ‘Dawyck
Purple’ with dark purple leaves, and ‘Riversii’ with blackish purple
leaves. ‘Purple Fountain’ is narrow and
upright, while ‘Purpurea Pendula’ has a weeping shape.
Make sure when planting any of these
alternative trees to the Norway maple, that you allow plenty of space for the
mature height and width. Since many may
become too large for smaller landscapes, another option would be to enjoy them
while young, then replace them when they become too large and outgrow their
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