Species of maple and oak abound in the United States. These deciduous trees, and in the case of same maple species, shrubs, appear regularly in garden and landscaping environments, as well as in naturally wooded areas. Differences between species of oak and maple trees range from variations in taxonomic, or scientific, classification, to common uses and problems with each and the general size of the species. These trees grow throughout the United States and Canada.
All true maple trees and shrubs belong to the Aceraceae, or maple family. True oak trees belong to the Quercus genus. Thus, while oaks constitute a single genus, maples constitute a family of plants. The Aceraceae family belongs to the Rosidae subclass and Sapindales order. Acer is the primary genus of the maple family. The Quercus genus belongs to the Fagales, or beech, order of plants, and the Fagaceae family. All species of maple and oak belong to the plant kingdom, vascular plant subkingdom, angiosperm phylum and dicot class.
According to Clemson University horticulturalists Debbie Shaughnessy and Bob Polomski, maples are so diverse that their use hinges on the species. Common uses of maple trees include screening or ornamental species, patio trees, hedge and border accents and container growth. Maples also provide commercial use when their sap is tapped to make syrup. Oak tree uses include shade trees, street or municipal trees and focal specimen on large grounds such as public parks. Shaughnessy and Polomski warn that oak species do not make good trees for small home grounds, though small species of maple do.
Maple trees exhibit a much broader size range than do oaks. Some maple species are actually shrubs or bushes, and prove small enough to grow in containers. These plants reach mature heights as short as 8 feet. Other species of maple reach heights of 100 feet. Small oak trees reach heights of 20 to 30 feet, while large oak trees reach mature heights of 50 to 100 feet. Oak trees exhibit significant lateral growth as well; the branches and roots grow far from the center of the tree, more so than maple species of comparable size. Because of this, oak trees should not be grown in confined spaces or near foundations.
Maple and oak both appear on lists of species to which Japanese beetles are most attracted. Other pests commonly affecting maple and oak species include borers and scale insects. Aphids attack maple trees but not oak, while oaks attract galls not found on maple species. Common diseases in both maple and oak include leaf spots and bacterial leaf rot. Other common maple diseases include tar spot, anthracnose, canker and collar rot. Small or soft-wooded maple trees may break in ice storms. Common diseases in oak not present in maple include oak wilt and mistletoe infestation. According to Shaughnessy and Polomski, large oak trees are big enough to be impervious to most problems, such that even when infested or infected these trees sometimes don't experience a decline in health.
Maple species are noted for their ornamental foliage. Species such as Japanese maple exhibit fiery red leaves during the fall. Cultivars and hybrid varieties such as Bloodgood Japanese maple bear similarly ostentatious foliage in variations of red and purple. Oak trees attract small animals such as squirrels, opossums and birds, which feed on the tree and live in its spacious canopy.