The Friends of the Wildflower Garden, Inc.

Trees and Shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Mountain Maple


Scientific Name
Acer spicatum Lam.


Plant Family
Soapberry (Sapindaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Spring flowering - usually May in central MN



Mountain Maple is a shrub-like tree that will grow to no more than 25 feet usually; it grows in moist acidic soil as an understory tree. The largest Mountain Maple known in the United States as of 2021 is in Smyth County VA, measuring 42 feet high, 28 foot crown spread, and 18 inches in circumference. The Minnesota Big Tree list is empty for this species.

Twigs are yellow-green initially in summer, reddish in winter and spring and have fine hair. The buds have two easily seen outer scales.

Bark is thin, greenish on young stems becoming gray to grayish brown on thicker stems with a warty appearance, but without the greenish-white stripes of Striped Maple, A. pensylvanicum.

Leaves: The typically 3-lobed maple-like leaves are opposite, 3 to 4 inches long and with somewhat coarse teeth (unlike A. pensylvanicum which has fine sharp teeth) and with sharp points to the 3 broadly v-shaped lobes. The delicate veining gives a quilted appearance on the upper surface.

The flowers, appearing in mid to late May, after the leaves unfold, are greenish yellow and clustered on a narrow 3 to 6 inch high erect long-stalked flower stem (a raceme). This upright spike like flower structure led to the species name spicatum. This species is monoecious, that is, the unisexual male and female flowers are on separate racemes but in this species some racemes may have both sexes. The flowers have five narrow sepals, no petals, 8 stamens in the male flowers and the female flower ovary is 2-carpel.

The fruit is a paired winged seed (a samara) about 8 mm high, paired at the top at the stalk; the pair are at less than right angles to each other.


Habitat: Mountain Maple occurs in the understory of hardwood forests where the soil is somewhat rich, moist to mesic and the sunlight is dappled until full leaf-out of the canopy trees.

Names: The genus, Acer, is the Latin word for 'maple.' The species spicatum, means 'spike bearing' and in this case refers to the upright flower panicle. The author name for the plant classification - ‘Lam.’ is for Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829), French naturalist and biologist, an early proponent of evolution who among other things, published the 3 volume Flore francaise. He is best known for his theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. In the 19th Century this species was called Acer montanum. Botanists have recently moved the maples into the Sapindaceae family from the older Aceraceae family.

Comparisons: The most similar species is Striped Maple, Acer pensylvanicum, which has striped bark, the flower racemes are nodding rather than erect and the leaves have finer teeth. Also, Striped Maple is dioecious - separate male and female flowers on separate plants.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

full plant drawing

Above: The old Mountain Maple in Eloise Butler that is a Minneapolis Heritage Tree. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.

Below: 1st photo - The spike-like long-stalked flower cluster. 2nd photo - The leaf is in the typical maple style with 3 (usually) broad pointed lobes with course teeth. 3rd photo - Bark on older stems has a warty look.

Mountain Maple Mountain Maple leaf Mountain Maple bark

Below: 1st photo - Flower raceme developing. 2nd and 3rd photos - Twigs are reddish in winter and spring, buds have 2 conspicuous scales.

Mountain Maple flower Mountain Maple Twig Mountain maple bud scales

Below: 1st photo - Male flowers of the Mountain Maple. 2nd photo - Female flowers.

Mountain Maple Male flowers Female flowers

Below: The samara of Mountain Maple is short - about 8 mm high with an angle less than 90 between the pair.


Below: Flower racemes are typically found in groups toward the end of the branches. New twigs are greenish initially, turning reddish in summer. 2nd photo is of the large specimen in Eloise Butler on Geranium Path that is a Minneapolis Heritage Tree.

Mountain Maple large plant in flower

Below: A leaf comparison of the common maples. Images not to scale.

Maple Leaf comparison leaf comparisons


Notes: Eloise Butler first planted Mountain Maple in the Garden on May 28, 1909 with plants obtained from the Park Board Nursery. More in 1916. The species was listed on Martha Crone's 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time. Gardener Cary George planted it in 1994. The Garden hosts a large specimen near Guide Station 12 that is listed as a Minneapolis Heritage Tree for its champion size. The tree is native to counties in the NE Quadrant of Minnesota and to the four counties of the SE Corner. In North America it ranges from Minnesota and Iowa eastward to the coast, down as far as Georgia and Mississippi. In Canada it is found from Saskatchewan eastward to the Atlantic.

Eight species of Maple are found in the wild in Minnesota: A. negundo, Box Elder; A. nigrum, Black Maple; A rubrum, Red Maple; A. saccharinum, Silver Maple; A. saccharum, Sugar Maple; A. spicatum, Mountain Maple; A. ginnala, Amur Maple and A. platanoides, Norway Maple. The latter two are not native but introductions that have naturalized.

Francois Michaux, in his 3 volume North American Sylva of 1817-19 wrote: "The Mountain Maple is too small to be profitably cultivated for its wood, and as its flowers, its roots, and its bark are destitute of any very sensible odour, it promises no resources to medicine. it is found in the gardens of the curious, rather to complete the series of species, than for any remarkable property of its foliage or of its flowers. This species is commonly grafted upon the Sycamore, and, like the Moose wood [Striped Maple], it is thus augmented to twice its natural dimensions." (Ref. #26b)

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.