Boxelder, or Acer negundo, is a interesting tree for several reasons. Despite its overall attractiveness it is usually regarded as a second-rate tree choice and labelled with pejoratives such as  "alley-cat tree" or "invasive undesirable." And though most maples have simples leaves (some rare ones have trifoliate) boxelder has compound leaves with as many as seven leaflets which explains why it's often called ash-leaf maple. And, also unlike other maples, it is fully dioecious and both male and female trees are required for reproduction. All of this points to a distinctiveness so noticeable that some botanists have even placed it in its own genus, designating it Negundo aceroides. Nonetheless, this un-maple-like maple is still considered a maple.

The name boxelder comes from the white wood that resembles boxwood (buxus) though there are other names for it including Manitoba maple in Canada. It forms a 40 to 50 foot tall tree with a rounded canopy of pretty light green foliage. The characteristics which are held against it are the brittle wood, which may break in storms and a relatively short life. As for the brittle wood that is a factor that can be compensated for by carful siting and as for the longevity, that is highly variable depending on location. Some geographic regions report boxelders reaching 75 years, others less, which is not as short a lifespan as some fruit trees. And boxelder, like many short-lived trees, compensates by being fast growing. Boxelder is an excellent choice for those disturbed, urban sites where a quick growing tree is valuable while more permanent trees are maturing.

Boxelder has a range from Manitoba to Guatemala in Central America making it one of the most adaptable trees in existence. And even though it may be considered an invasive foreigner in many countries, it is now found growing throughout the world, on both the southern and northern hemispheres. It is native to stream sides in North America but adapts to quite dry soils as well, acid or alkaline. In fact, a boxelder can grow on almost any soil, under almost any condition, and is of a size that never overwhelms its surroundings. So for locations where few other trees would thrive, boxelder is a worthy consideration, one that is also a godsend to wildlife as the seeds are greedily stripped form the trees.

If the basic species lacks the desired "umph" for one’s gardens, there are now some amazingly attractive cultivars such as: ‘Flamingo’ with leaves edged pink; ‘Variegatum’ with leaves bordered white; ‘Auratum’ with gold leaves; ‘Elegantissima’ with yellow leaf variegations. These are all bright and attractive and bring that extra something to this much under-appreciated tree.



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