Acer saccharinum, known as the silver maple (also occasionally the creek maple, river maple, silverleaf maple, soft maple, water maple, or white maple), is a species of maple native to eastern North America in the eastern United States and adjacent parts of southeast Canada.
The silver maple is a relatively fast-growing deciduous tree, commonly reaching a height of 15-25 m (50-80 ft), exceptionally 35 m (115 ft). Its spread will generally be 11-15 m (35-50 ft) wide. A 10-year-old sapling will stand about 8 m (25 ft) tall. It is often found along waterways and in wetlands, leading to the colloquial name "water maple". It is one of the most common trees in the United States. It is a highly adaptable tree, although it has higher sunlight requirements than other maples.
The leaves are palmate, 8-16 cm long and 6-12 cm broad, with deep angular notches between the five lobes. The 5-12 cm long, slender stalks of the leaves mean that even a light breeze can produce a striking effect as the silver undersides of the leaves are exposed. The autumn color is less pronounced than in many maples, generally ending up a pale yellow, although some specimens can produce a more brilliant yellow and even orange and red colorations. Some specimens can simply drop their leaves while still green as well.
The flowers are in small panicles, produced before the leaves in early spring, with the seeds maturing in early summer. The seeds are winged, in pairs, small (5-10 mm diameter), the wing about 3-5 cm long. Although the wings provide for some transport by air, the seeds are heavy and are also transported by water.
On mature trunks, the bark is gray and shaggy. On branches and young trunks, the bark is smooth and silvery gray.
In many parts of the eastern U.S., the large rounded buds of the silver maple are one of the primary food sources for squirrels during the spring, after many acorns and nuts have sprouted and the squirrels' food is scarce. The seeds are the largest of any native maple and are also a food source for wildlife.
The silver maple has brittle wood, and is commonly damaged in storms. The roots are shallow and fibrous and easily invade septic fields and old drain pipes and can also crack sidewalks and foundations. It is a vigorous resprouter, and if not pruned, it will often grow with multiple trunks. It is, nonetheless, widely used as an ornamental tree because of its rapid growth and ease of propagation and transplanting. It is highly tolerant of urban conditions, which is why it is frequently planted next to streets. Although it naturally is found near water, it can grow on drier ground if planted there.
It is also commonly cultivated outside its native range, showing tolerance of a wide range of climates, growing successfully as far north as central Norway and south to Orlando, Florida. It can thrive in a Mediterranean climate, as at Jerusalem and Los Angeles, if summer water is provided. It is also grown in temperate parts of the Southern Hemisphere, as in Argentina and Uruguay.
The silver maple is closely related to the red maple, and can hybridise with it, the hybrid being known as the Freeman maple (Acer x freemanii). The Freeman maple is a popular ornamental tree in parks and large gardens, combining the fast growth of silver maple with the less brittle wood and less invasive roots of the red maple.