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TREES & plants

Boxelder

Leaves of the boxelder tree.

Boxelder is actually a maple tree. This native tree, while very cold hardy, is not widely sold due to its ability to self-seed aggressively. It also attracts boxelder bugs which often enter homes in fall. 

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

Botanical name: 
Acer negundo
All Common Names: 
boxelder, box elder, ash-leaved maple
Family (English): 
Soapberry (formerly Maple)
Family (Botanic): 
Sapindaceae (formerly Aceraceae)
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area, 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet), 
  • Medium tree (25-40 feet)
Mature Height: 
30-50 feet
Mature Width: 
30-50 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3, 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8, 
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil, 
  • Wet soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Intolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Tolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Tolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • Aggressive, 
  • Excessive sucker growth, 
  • Highly susceptible to ice damage, 
  • Messy fruit/plant parts, 
  • Weak wood and branch structure
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Irregular, 
  • Round
Growth Rate: 
  • Fast
Transplants Well: 
  • Yes
Wildlife: 
  • Browsers, 
  • Insect pollinators, 
  • Seed-eating birds, 
  • Small mammals
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

The species is able to grow in a wide range of conditions. 

Disease, pests, and problems

Seedlings from this tree make it a weedy species.
A weak wooded tree prone to storm damage.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 0

Native to low, wet areas.  It has spread into disturbed sites and common in urban situations.

Bark color and texture 

Bark is brown with very shallow ridges.  Young stems are distinctively green and covered with a white, waxy coating.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

This maple has compound leaves with 3 to 5 (sometimes 7) irregularly toothed leaflets.  Leaves are in pairs (opposite) with the leaf ranging from 6 to 8 inches long.
Leaves light green in summer with very little fall color change.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Male and female flowers generally on separate trees.  Not ornamentally important.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fruit on female trees only.  Pairs of winged seeds (samaras), hanging in clusters.

Acer negundo or Boxelder