WS October Tree of the Month: Bigleaf Maple

Fall has arrived! And with it the beautiful yellows, reds, and golds of the turning leaves. Many of our native tree species put on this yearly display for us; Oregon white oak, red alder, and Pacific Dogwood to name a few. But none quite so spectacularly as the bigleaf maple. With leaves up to 10 inches wide, the bigleaf maple not only packs a punch in the fall but provides valuable shade during the summer.

Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) is a versatile tree, equally at home in full sun or under canopy and thrives in a range of soil conditions. It provides diverse wildlife habitat, including forage for deer and elk, nesting for birds, and its seeds are used as food by many species of birds and animals. After the tree dies, it continues to be an important wildlife feature as cavity-nesting birds and small mammals use the hollow log for shelter. A mature maple provides considerable leaf litter for the soil and is therefore considered a ‘soil-building’ species. If it makes sense for your yard, leave those leaves! They will decompose, fertilizing the soil as they do so. Bigleaf maple is also prized for its wood, which is used commercially for flooring, furniture and cabinet building, veneer, musical instruments, and as fuel.

If you are thinking about adding a bigleaf maple to your property, make sure to give it enough room. Bigleaf maples average about 50 feet tall at maturity but can reach as high as 100 feet. They also have an impressive spread, with an upper range of about 50 feet. After the color display is over and all the leaves have fallen is the best time to observe the tree’s overall shape and branch scaffolding. Take advantage of the dormant winter months to have an arborist perform any needed pruning.

You might have noticed a few new bigleaf maples in Rheingarten Park. Recent planting efforts from the White Salmon-Bingen Rotary Club and the Underwood Conservation District have added a few more of this valuable shade tree to our park.

Those trees will soon be included in an official inventory. After a careful selection process, the White Salmon Tree Board has contracted with Peninsula Urban Forestry LLC, to inventory and map the city’s park trees and city trees along the Jewett corridor. The company will use the data collected in the inventory to provide a detailed management plan for the city’s urban trees and a general forest management plan for the trees of Gaddis Park. Crews will be out collecting inventory data in the coming weeks.

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