At least 27 species of maple (Acer spp.) are found throughout North America, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Members of the Acer genus have developed adaptations that help them reproduce and survive sometimes-harsh environmental conditions. If you choose to plant a maple tree in your yard, knowing genus and species adaptations will help you determine optimal growing conditions for the cultivar.
Maple trees, like other deciduous trees, drop their leaves when the climate cools. This is a beneficial adaptation because in the winter, trees have less access to sunlight and water. By dropping their leaves, the tree can prevent water loss from photosynthesis and transpiration that normally takes place in the leaves. Trees also conserve energy during this dormant period since they do not have to protect the leaves from freezing.
Maple trees reproduce by generating seed-bearing fruit called samaras. According to the University of Wisconsin, samaras, with their wing-like designs, are released from the tree via the wind and flutter down to the soil like a helicopter. The samara's weight and length of its wings have evolved to land in an optimal position on the ground. By flying away from the parent plant, the seeds can avoid potential predators or diseases already established on the adult tree.
Sugar maple trees (Acer saccharum) live between 200 and 300 years. Their longevity is due to their specific adaptations for survival. Sugar maples are more shade-tolerant than many other deciduous trees, meaning they can occupy habitats not suitable to other species and their seedlings can establish under the canopies of adult trees. Sugar maples grow best in nutrient-rich soils, but they have also developed adaptations to survive in less-than-optimal soil. Their roots branch out extensively to cover more area and thus absorb more nutrients and water from the soil. The roots of sugar maple also have a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi which helps the tree absorb nutrients more efficiently. Finally, by dropping their leaves, sugar maples maintain an optimal pH range for their growth in the soil and recycle nutrients which will they will reabsorb.
Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) trees have a wide distribution. They are present in northeastern Canada and from Minnesota east to Maine, south to Georgia, west to Oklahoma and north back to Minnesota. Silver maples can also tolerate a variety of conditions, such as periodic flooding and an acidic environment. Their resilience is due to particular adaptations they have evolved. For instance, if the soil becomes flooded or oversaturated with water, sugar maples can develop secondary roots on top of the soil's surface in order to avoid root rot. Also both silver and red maples release their fruit-bearing seeds before most other maples, giving them a competitive advantage.