Ministry of Controversy

All maples are not created equal—especially when they’re on a $20 bill


As a gardener who has suffered under the shade and roots of three (3) Norway maples planted inextricably in the easeway fronting my house, I can sympathize with those who are distressed about a Norway maple leaf being enshrined forever on the new Canadian currency. It was supposed to be a sugar maple leaf, which has three triangular major leaf lobes. Instead, the small leaf just to the left of Queen Elizabeth’s head looks much more like the five-lobed Norway maple leaf.

The Norway maple is an alien scourge throughout the Northeast. (Indeed, a new list has it classified as an invasive species in NY state.) The seedlings are broadcast far and wide, and they grow quickly. I guess that’s why some misguided city arborists chose these to reforest certain streets of Buffalo, many of which had been devastated by Dutch Elm disease. I shouldn’t complain too bitterly—at least we have a tall leafy canopy over our little side street—unlike many of the desolate cul de sacs of Western New York’s suburban outposts.

Nonetheless, thanks to this alien maple, I am paying a landscape company to help me install a raised bed that will make it possible to plant something in the barren dirt between the three maples.  I have to do something—can’t stand the look of it any more, and I’m pretty sure that a tough perennial like hakonechloa grass will stand up to the conditions, even when the roots spread throughout the raised bed, as they surely will.

If you’ve never had Norway maples on your property, then you can’t possibly understand how loathsome this tree is. Oh, and by the way, even the fall color of such varieties as Crimson King is usually undermined by some kind of fungal disease that disfigures the leaves, but (sad to say) doesn’t kill the tree. So in fall you get slow-falling leaves with weird white or black spots on them.

In conclusion, I agree with anyone who is protesting this choice for the Canadian currency. These are the type of trees that give all urban trees a bad name.

Posted by on January 28, 2013 at 8:00 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.
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14 Responses to “All maples are not created equal—especially when they’re on a $20 bill”

  1. tara dillard says:

    Maples were used to excess during the go-go 80′s in metro Atlanta.

    Alas, they are not thriving.

    Oaks planted at the same time are super thriving.

    30 year learning curve.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  2. Paul Jung says:

    I need to look at my currency more closely!

    I agree that growing under a Norway Maple presents “challenges” : very dense and dry shade with aggressive tree roots. (I’ve had some success with bigroot geraniums and barrenwort.)

    For most Canadians, though, this issue is a non-starter when they’re breaking their 20 at Tim’s.

    Tempest in a coffee pot, as it were.

  3. Linda B Secrist says:

    rather than battle with those dreaded Norways, my choice would be remove and replace. The only good Norway maple is a dead one

  4. Lisa-St. Marys ON says:

    I wish I could have the two Norway Maples replaced on my front lawn, alas they are owned by the town. I work for a small subdivision developer, and when people come in asking for their tree for their front lawn, they inevitably want what they call the “red maple”, which is the Crimson King. Yuck. I try to educate them, suggesting that they really want a sugar maple that turns fantastic colour in the fall, or an oak. I try to explain that the Norway maples start to grow in our forests and that the wild flowers can not survive under them because of their dense canopy. I show them pictures of the beautiful dappled shade, and the potential to garden under the sugar maples. I even had to educate the man who sells and installs the trees, he had no idea.

    After 3 years my epimedium is still surviving under the canopy, but certainly is not thriving. And when I try to plant some snowdrops or anything else for that matter it is very difficult to cut through all the feeder roots.

  5. Jon says:

    The problem is the Norway will quickly grow into the raised beds. I have a Norway and the only thing I find that will grow is Pachysandra and some big tough Elegans hosta.

  6. MiSchelle says:

    We had several mature Norway Maple on our property when we bought it 15 years ago and any financial windfall I receive is put toward their removal – at anywhere from $300 – $600 a pop. When I think of the fun things I could have done with that money, let alone the money wasted trying to find something to grow under them, I could just spit. They are messy, messy trees! I resent cleaning up the seed pods in early summer and weeding the dozens of seedling of those I miss. Most of all, I hate raking the fungus-ridden leaves late in the season well after all other trees have dropped theirs and especially well after the limits of my aging back…my blood pressure rises every time I hear the name.

  7. Linnea Borealis says:

    The Norway maple in our yard was one of the reasons we bought this house – it provides the two best swings in the neighborhood and will hopefully host a tree house one day. Instead of planting under it, we’ve installed a shaded play area with an irregular shaped sand box, playground mulch under the swings and a dry creek bed filled with round rocks and stepping stones, leading to the rain garden.

    That said, I would have much preferred it being a sugar maple or a birch tree! In fall it is ugly, when it could have been beautiful! But I can’t replace it since trees this size take a whole childhood to grow and this is the only swing-worthy tree we have :-)

    I will say I think I hate the Rose of Sharon even more – and one grows right under the Norway maple! I’m on a mission to eradicate them from our yard.

    • MiSchelle says:

      Luck for you, Linnea! The lowest branches on my Norways were 40′ in the air which would have required a lot of rope and a fearless disposition. If they hadn’t shaded each other out due to their too-close spacing we may have been able to salvage one or two!

  8. Jason says:

    For heaven’s sake, isn’t it obvious they should use the sugar maple?

  9. commonweeder says:

    When we put an addition on to our library we took down the Norway maple and planted a new disease resistant elm. Every opportunity to remove a Norway maple must be seized.

  10. Chris says:

    What grows under my 80 year old Norway Maple: Yews, Woodland Sunflower and Big Leaved Aster (with watering sometimes – twice this past summer), that low growing creeping Sedum, Whitley’s Speedwell.
    Hate the bl;ack spotted leaves in fall.

  11. tropaeolum says:

    Elizabeth, why don’t you remove at least one of the trees? Is it the cost? Or does an ordinance prevent you from taking it down?

  12. Gail says:

    When looking for a sugar maple to plant a couple of years ago all the area nurseries didn’t either carry them or had about 4 trees which didn’t have good form. When I asked why they carried every Norway maple cultivar created most replied that is what people are looking for. Sugar maples do not do well in my areas clay soil. We did find one and am finally seeing more true red maples being carried at nurseries instead of the Norway maples. Other good thing is most people planted the Norway maples too deep so they will be declining and dead in a few years.

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