Field maple

Field maple
Acer campestre

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Field maple belongs to the genus Acer and is a member of the maple family (Aceraceae).

Field maple (Acer campestre) is a deciduous tree growing to 20m and flowering May to June.

Lifespan: 250–350 years.

 

Characteristics

Bark is brown-grey, fissured and flaky. Twigs are downy. Leaves are opposite, dark green, palmate with three to five lobes that are slightly toothed (4–7cm), hairless above, downy on the underside. The leaf stalk produces latex when cut.

Flowers look like ‘perfect’ hermaphrodite flowers (both sexes represented on one flower). However, they are in fact unisexual and will be dominantly male or female. Flowers are small, yellow-green, cup-shaped (approx. 6mm), in clusters. Fruits are in pairs, encapsulated in green-red propeller-shaped wings.

Field maple is insect pollinated but is capable of self-pollination. Seeds are distributed by the wind.

Field maple
Field maple leaves

Distribution

Native in the UK and across most of Europe.

Field maple is the UK’s only native maple. It is very common in England and eastern Wales. Rare in the north and in Ireland; usually introduced. Found on calcareous soils in woods, scrub and hedgerows.

Often found as an understorey component of ash or beech woodland or on chalk downs.

It is widely planted in native planting schemes because of its autumn colours of rich orange and yellow.

Human value

Field maple produces the hardest, highest density timber of all the European maple species. It is a warm creamy-brown colour with a silky shine, fine-grained, tough and hard to split.

Because of its small size it cannot produce large diameter timber for industry so is of low economic importance. It coppices well so is often used in turnery, fine engraving or craftwork.

It produces a sweet sap in the Spring which can be used to make wine or syrup.

Field maple flower
Field maple leaves

Wildlife value

Field maple is an important understorey component in lowland mixed deciduous woodland which is a priority habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. A wide variety of characteristic flora is associated with this woodland including dogs mercury, bluebell and enchanters nightshade.

Field maple has a good aphid (and therefore honeydew) yield which makes it a good foraging tree for wildlife. Many birds, small mammals and insects such as ladybirds benefit.

The flowers provide nectar for bees and the seeds are also eaten by birds and mammals such as wood mice and bank voles. A wide variety of moths will feed on its leaves, including the sycamore moth, the mocha, the maple pug, the small yellow wave, the prominent and the maple prominent.

Management

Shade tolerant when young, but requires more light to produce seed. It favours calcareous soils but also grows well on neutral heavy clay provided it is well drained.

Seeds ripen in late September but can be slow to germinate and require a year of dormancy (18 months pre-treatment) before they begin to sprout; or can be sown in March. Trees can also be grown from softwood cuttings.

The sycamore gall mite (Aculops acericola) can affect field maple. It can also be susceptible to a wilt caused by a soil-borne fungi Verticillium dahliae and V. albo-atrum.

Field maple seed

Illustrations © Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.
Photographs © Debbie Cotton