If you were a tree in Philadelphia, a lot of your friends-and a few of your frenemies-would be maples.
Maples are part of a large and diverse family, and many of them (even the non-natives) are very happy in the climate and soil of our region. Included in the genus are petite species like the Paperbark and Japanese maple that are great for small spaces, as well as the grand Red and Sugar maples that create those cathedral-like canopies when flanking residential streets.
These trees are popular for good reason. They deserve props for their contributions to the fall color display, when the different varieties turn vivid red, orange, or yellow. They aren’t particularly plagued by disease. And relative to most other large trees, they aren’t that messy. Their tiny, papery fruits helicopter their way to the ground in summer or fall and don’t require much in the way of cleanup.
Some maples, however, are way too rambunctious to coexist peacefully with everyone else. The Norway maple is one, as is the Box Elder (I know, but it is a maple.) These are among the category of paradoxical trees that are never, ever available commercially, but exist everywhere, colonizing unmowed banks, abandoned lots, and untended fencelines. These trash trees, outmuscling more desireable species, give maples a bad name. But if you take a look at Fairmount Park’s recommended tree list for Philadelphia (which includes all the trees I’ve been writing about) you’ll see that eleven different maple species are included. This is more than any other type of tree, so maybe a variety of Maple belongs on the short list for the next tree you plant.