The scientific name of the boxelder tree, Acer negundo, is a horticultural identity linking it to the maple tree family, Aceraceae. It is the only maple tree native to the United States with more than one leaflet on a single leaf stalk, and because of its three leaflets, it is sometimes referred to as the poison ivy tree. Boxelder trees thrive on sites with poor soil and drought conditions, making them desirable for windbreaks if inter-planted with longer-lasting varieties.
Under ideal conditions, boxelder trees live as long as 100 years, grow to a 50-foot height and feature light gray to brown bark on one or more deeply furrowed trunks. Like other maples, boxelder trees have fruit called samaras, v-shaped flattened wings joined within a papery structure, that droop in large clusters and remain throughout the winter, giving it an often-termed messy appearance. Because branches droop as the tree matures and are susceptible to breakage because of poor collar formation, boxelder trees require regular pruning to eliminate weak wood and maintain the trees' shape.
Leptocoris trivittatus, the boxelder bug, is attracted to the boxelder tree, and although it does no real harm to the tree, it is a common household pest. Throughout autumn and winter, boxelder bugs multiply and move into homes, emitting a repugnant odor, staining fabric and sometimes causing asthmatic reactions.
Ornamental boxelder varieties include Aurea-variegatum, with gold bordered leaves, and the cultivar Flamingo, featuring pink margins on variegated leaves. The variety Auratum is noted for its canopy of dense gold leaves. Boxelders grown in the western United States take on yellow and red autumn colors similar to their eastern maple counterparts, and in western areas with limited water resources, they make acceptable street trees.