Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
Maple (Silver) Keys
Urban, Rural or Both: Both
Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum). Known also as Creek Maple, Silverleaf Maple, Soft Maple, Swamp Maple, Water Maple, and White Maple. When the keys start falling, it can be like a rainstorm of keys. Take a key, peel off the brown skin and inside you will find a pea green colored seed. This seed is edible, and to me, quite good. At first I found them a bit dry, but now I wait for that time of year when I can start eating them again. Fresh, right after they fall is the way I eat them, but you can gather and peel a lot, boil in water quickly or steam lightly, and serve like peas with some lemon and salt. You can use the Red Maple Keys as well, but I don't like them as much. Don't use keys from the other Maples as they are bitter.
- Plant Size: As tall as 35 meters (115 feet) but generally half to two thirds that
- Duration: Fast growing Perennial
- Leaf Shape: Palmate, classic "Maple Leaf" shape with deep lobes. Five main lobes with large irregular sawtooth edges that can look like small lobes
- Leaf Phyllotaxis (Leaf Arrangement) on branch: Opposite
- Leaf Size: 8-16 cm (3 to 6 1/2 inches) long and 6-12 cm (2 1/3 to 4 3/4 inches) wide
- Leaf Margin: Deeply Serrated (saw toothed edge)
- Leaf Notes: Upper side of leaf is green, while underside is distinct silvery color with a soft downy texture
- Flowers: Female: White-pink to rich red-pink flowers in clusters in early spring. Male: Yellowish-green on long drooping stems.
- Fruit: Keys (Samara) with a single seed. Keys grow on tree in pairs. Keys are larger than the other Maples. Ripe in June
- Bark: Silvery grey, on mature trunks the bark can get shaggy, but not nearly as shaggy as the Shagbark Hickory.
- Habitat: Requires full sun or close to it - not shade tolerant like most Maples. Adaptable to many situations, but is most commonly found near water, or where the land stays flooded for a while in the spring.
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
- The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.
Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr..
Silver Maple leaves. You don't have to pick the keys off the tree, when they start coming down in spring, pick them off the ground. There can be storms of them falling, and it can be quite a sight on a day with a good breeze.
The Silver Maple gets its name from the silver hue to the backs of the leaves. When it is windy and you see mainly the silver backs of the leaves, it can be an indication that rain is coming.
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