The Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is a large deciduous tree with a dense, rounded crown. Native to eastern and central Europe, it has been widely planted across the UK in streets, gardens and parks. Since its introduction in the seventeenth century, the Norway maple has become naturalised and now self-seeds in a wide range of habitats, including woods, scrubland and hedges.
These resilient acers are prized as ornamental trees for their characteristic lobed leaves that turn yellow, orange and brown in autumn. The species name Platanoides means ‘like a plane tree’, referring to the similarity of its foliage to that of members of the genus Platanus, which includes the London plane (Platanus x hispanica).
Norway maple grows quickly in the first few decades and can live for more than 250 years in its native habitat. In North America it can outcompete the native sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and has a reputation for being an invasive species.
Acer platanoides has scented flowers in April which provide a valuable source of food for early pollinating insects. Once the flowers have been pollinated, they develop into winged fruits known as keys or samaras. The fruits are dispersed by the wind, autorotating with their helicopter-wings as they slowly descend. Winged fruits can stay in the air for longer than non-winged fruits, so they travel on the wind for greater distances.
The wood of the Norway maple is pale-cream and relatively hard. It is used for turned objects, crates, furniture and musical instruments including violins. Despite its useful timber, Norway maple has not been grown on a commercial scale in the UK due to potential problems with grey squirrels stripping the bark.
Identifying Norway maple
Acer platanoides can be confused with sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), another naturalised European species introduced into Britain centuries ago, and widely planted from the 1700s. Sycamores can reach 35m in height, taller than Norway maples, but their autumn colour is less spectacular. Unlike sycamore, Norway maple exudes a milky sap when the leaf stalks are broken. Other ways to distinguish between the two species (depending on the time of year) include comparing buds, flowers, leaves and samaras.
- Norway maple has large leaves with five to seven lobes. The opposing buds (characteristic of all acers) are deep red. Flowers appear in April before the leaves, and the yellowish-green flowers grow in erect clusters. Fruits are paired and the wings spread on the horizontal or at a wide angle
- Sycamore has large leaves with five coarsely-toothed lobes. Opposing buds are green, and the flowers appear at the same time as the foliage. Like Norway maple, flowers are yellowish-green, but they tend to appear in late April to May, and each hanging flower cluster is 6-12cm long. Fruits are paired with wings set at a 90° angle
- Field maple has smaller, smooth-edged leaves, and its paired fruits are spread horizontally
- Japanese maple has five to nine lobes with small teeth and vivid red, orange, purple or yellow autumn foliage, depending on the variety
- The samaras of red maple are red and smaller than those of Norway maple. Leaves are also smaller, and they turn brilliant red in autumn
London plane trees have similar foliage to Norway maple, but the leaves are larger and more leathery. Leaves are arranged alternately rather than opposite each other, and the distinctive bark flakes off to reveal buff, grey and cream patches beneath. Globe-shaped fruits dangle down from the branches and remain on the tree until the following spring.
Size, height and spread
Norway maple is a large, broad-leaved tree growing to 25-30m in height, with a crown that can spread as wide as the tree is tall.
Value to wildlife
The early flowers attract pollinators such as mining bees, flies and beetles. Leafcutter bees cut notches out of the leaves to construct their nests, and moth and fly larvae feed on the foliage. The samaras also provide food for small mammals and birds.
How to grow Norway maple
Acer platanoides is hardy throughout the country and does best in full sun or light shade. Its tolerance to pollution, shade and heavy, compacted soils makes it a robust and versatile choice for many locations.
Where to plant Norway maple
There are several compact varieties of Norway maple that are suitable for smaller gardens. Deep, fertile, moist but well-drained soil is ideal and, unlike some maples, Acer platanoides copes well with alkaline conditions as well as acid and neutral soils.
How to plant Norway maple
Plant Norway maple as you would any tree.
- Dig a square hole and soften the edges, if necessary, with a garden fork
- Soak the rootball of bare-rooted trees in a bucket of water for half an hour and water containerised plants thoroughly
- Loosen the roots and ensure the top of the rootball sits level with the soil
- Refill the hole with soil, firm gently and mulch with chipped bark or compost
- Stake the tree with a short stake at a 45 degree angle, secured to the trunk with a flexible tree tie
How to prune Norway maple
Acer platanoides needs very little pruning. Simply remove any dead, diseased or damaged material. Do this in winter when the tree is dormant to avoid sap bleeding from the pruning wounds.
Pests and diseases
Norway maple suffers few problems in its native habitat, but elsewhere it is susceptible to fungal issues such as Verticilium wilt, tar spot and honey fungus. Some varieties of Norway maple, like ‘Drummondii’, may be prone to leaf scorch, but this is unlikely to cause long-term damage to the health of the tree. Aphids, gall mites, horse chestnut scale and caterpillars can affect the foliage. These insects are part of the natural ecosystem and generally cause little damage, so no treatment is necessary.
Advice on buying a Norway maple
- Acer platanoides varies significantly in size depending on the variety. Consider the final height and spread of the maple you choose in relation to your space
- Specialist tree nurseries offer a range of varieties to buy online
- Always check plants for signs of damage or disease before planting
Where to buy Norway maple trees
Types of Norway maple to grow
Acer platanoides ‘Crimson King’
This majestic variety, also known as the purple Norway maple, has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM). It has an attractive rounded form and deep-crimson foliage that turns orange, brown and maroon in autumn. ‘Crimson King’ is fast growing and only suitable for larger gardens as it needs plenty of space to spread.
More like this
Height x Spread: 25m x 15m
Acer platanoides ‘Drummondii’
This elegant variegated acer is also known as the Harlequin Maple. Its deeply-lobed green leaves have wide, creamy margins in spring and summer which contrast beautifully with a backdrop of trees and shrubs with darker foliage. It has wonderful orange and yellow autumn colour, too. ‘Drummondii’ can sometimes produce stems with foliage that reverts to green. This should be removed as soon as it is seen.
H x S: 12m x 8m
Acer platanoides Princeton Gold (‘Prigo’)
Another RHS Award of Garden Merit winner, this striking Norway maple is one of the best for golden foliage. Like many other varieties, Princeton Gold has been included on the list of RHS Plants for Pollinators for its early spring flowers.
H x S: 15m x 15m
Acer platanoides ‘Crimson Sentry’
This acer is a good tree for medium-sized gardens due to its compact, narrow form. It reaches 6m in height with a 2m spread after 20 years, though it will grow bigger given time. Originating as a sport (a natural genetic mutation) of the ‘Crimson King’ variety, it has smaller leaves than its regal predecessor, and the foliage darkens in summer to a rich purple.
H x S: 10m x 5m
Acer platanoides ‘Pacific Sunset’
Admired for its spectacular foliage colour, this variety is a cross between Acer platanoides ’Warrenred’ and Acer truncatum (the Shantung maple). Its large, green leaves take on a range of sunset hues in autumn. Reaching 8m in height after 20 years, and continuing to grow to around 12m, ‘Pacific Sunset’ is most suitable for very large gardens.
H x S: 15m x 10m
Acer platanoides ‘Globosum’
This unique variety has an unusual lollipop-style crown thanks to the grafting of a dwarf form high up the trunk of a standard Norway maple. Reaching around 5m in height after 25 years, this low-maintenance tree is ideal for smaller gardens. It creates structure in rows along pathways and makes a superb focal point when planted as a specimen tree.
H x S: 5m x 5m