Box Elder Tree

Acer negundo ssp. californicum California Box-elder by davidhofmann08

When people walk by my yard, they often stop to ask me the name of a shrub, tree or perennial. I believe that seeing something growing in my yard has encouraged others to plant it.

One tree that people have asked me about is one that I did not plant. It grows near the stream at the edge of my property and looks suspiciously like poison ivy with its three leaves. I have even heard this tree referred to as the poison ivy tree though it has many other more common names. While the leaves may resemble poison ivy, the tree can have 5 or 7 leaves but rarely 11 leaves; so if you count the leaves you can feel confident that this isn’t poison ivy. And the tree has a profuse number of hanging seeds that look like a maple tree’s seeds. This native North American tree is really in the maple or Acer family. The Latin name is Acer negundo and is referred to in my area as a Box Elder tree, Boxelder Maple or Maple Ash. In Canada it is known as the Manitoba Maple.

My Box Elder tree grows wild and some people consider this a weed tree. You can plant a Box elder tree if you would like. Some Box Elder trees have variegated leaf coloration. One that is particularly attractive has green and white leaves edged with pink. This one is called Acer Negundo Flamingo or Flamingo Box Elder.

The Box Elder tree grows in Temp. Hardiness zone 4. It prefers constant moistness- that is why mine self seeded near the stream- it can even be in some standing water. (Though it can tolerate some dry conditions.) It can tolerate city pollution and doesn’t care about soil pH. It can be short lived because it tends to be a weak tree. Under the best conditions it may live to be 50 years. Though the green Box Elder can grow 50 to 75 ft in height, the Flamingo Box Elder which grows in Zone 4 generally grows to 25 ft. in height and 20 ft wide.

Box Elder Bug by e_monk

If you plant a variegated Box Elder, be sure to prune out any green branches or it may revert to its green self.  See here. Only prune it in the summer. Use it as a shade or accent tree. It grows fast, so do not plant it under any power lines. Do not plant it near a house, fence or sidewalk since the roots may lift the pavement or fence or it might break near a house or if it has the box elder bug, these insects might go into your home. The Box Elder bug can be a major nuisance if it enters your house to over winter, but it does not bite.  See here.

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