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Black maple

Early fall color developing on black maple leaves.

Black maple, once considered a separate species (Acer nigrum), is now considered a subspecies of sugar maple (Acer saccharum ssp. nigrum). It displays similar characteristics: dense, rounded crown; dark, furrowed bark; and brilliant fall color. It is a commonly planted tree in this region.   This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.


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 saccharum subsp. nigrum

All common names:

black maple

Family (English):

Soapberry (formerly Maple)

Family (Botanic):

Sapindaceae (formerly Aceraceae)

Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks,
  • City parkway,
  • Wide median

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Parkway/street,
  • Shade tree,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)

Mature Height:

60-75 feet

Mature Width:

40-50 feet

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily),
  • Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8

Soil Preference:

  • Acid soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Dry sites,
  • Alkaline soil

Acid Soils:

  • Prefers

Alkaline Soils:

  • Tolerant

Salt Spray:

  • Intolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Intolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Intolerant

Planting Considerations:

  • Commonly planted

Ornamental Interest:

  • Fall color

Seasons of Interest:

  • early spring,
  • early fall,
  • mid fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous

Shape or Form:

  • Oval,
  • Round,
  • Upright

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate

Transplants Well:

  • Moderate


  • Insect pollinators

More Information:

Tree & Plant Care

Avoid pruning in early spring as maples are 'bleeders' and will lose large amounts of sap.

Disease, pests, and problems

Susceptible to leaf scorch, verticillium wilt, tar spot and anthracnose.
Pests include  borers and cottony maple scale.
Suffers from salt, drought, and air pollution.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 5

Commonly found in moist sites.

Bark color and texture 

Bark is dark gray to almost black and deeply furrowed.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple leaves in pairs (opposite); 3 to 6 inches long.  Leaf is a little thicker than sugar maple with drooping edges giving an almost wilted appearance.  Pubescent (hairy) on the lower surface. Stipules often present with the leaves.
The 5 lobed leaves are dark green in summer, changing to yellow in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Small, pale yellow flowers in pendulous clusters.
Inconspicuous by themselves, but can be showy when the whole tree is in flower.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fruit are winged seeds in pairs (samaras);  1 inch long.
Green, maturing to brown.

Cultivars and their differences

Greencolumn black maple (Acer saccharum ssp. nigrum 'Greencolumn'):   A cultivar with an upright, narrow (20 feet wide) form and good heat tolerance.



Location of Acer saccharum subsp. nigrum (Black maple) at the Arboretum