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Aceraceae: Maple Family Identification Characteristics.

Plants of the Maple Family

Now included within the Soapberry family, Sapindaceae.

      Almost everyone recognizes the maple leaf from the Canadian flag, if not from trees themselves. The opposite, usually palmate leaves are a good pattern for recognizing maples. Only the box elder (Acer negundo) has a different type of leaf. Many people will also remember tossing the winged seeds into the air to make "helicopters." If you examine the flowers in springtime, you will find 4 or 5 separate sepals, sometimes colored like petals, and 4 or 5 (sometimes 0) separate petals. The flowers are typically, but not always, unisexual, with male and female blossoms appearing in separate blossoms, often on separate trees. Male flowers have 4 to 10 stamens. In female flowers the ovary is positioned superior and consists of 2 united carpels with partition walls usually present. The ovary matures as two winged seeds, called samaras. Based on genetic evidence, taxonomists reclassified the traditional Maple family as part of the Soapberry family. The genera Dipteronia is native to China. Note that the ash (Fraxinus) of the Olive family has somewhat similar seeds.

Key Words: Trees with opposite leaves and winged seeds in pairs.

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      Rocky Mountain Maple is a shrub or small tree with dark red twigs, plus smooth gray bark on the older stems. The leaves are simple, orbicular in outline, with 5 lobes, coarsely and sharply serrated, 5 to 10 centimeters long and glabrous, with slender petioles. Flowers form in corymbs. Sepals and petals are similar, about 4 millimeters long. The fruit is a pair of samaras. Acer glabrum. Rocky Mountain Maple.
Acer glabrum. Rocky Mountain Maple.
Acer negundo. Box Elder.
Acer negundo. Box Elder. Male Flowers.
Acer negundo. Box Elder.
Acer negundo. Box Elder. Female Flowers.
Acer negundo. Box Elder.

Acer negundo. Box Elder. Mature Seeds.

Acer circinatum. Vine Maple.
Acer circinatum. Vine Maple.
Leaves have seven to nine lobes.

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Maple Family pictures

Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
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Botany in a Day
Foraging the Mountain West
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Foraging the Mountain West

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