University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
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 others.

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 space.

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