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  4. The Maple Leaf: A Canadian Symbol

The Maple Leaf: A Canadian Symbol

Colourful autumn displays, tasty syrup, shade canopies in summer, and "whirligig" seeds that spiral to the ground—maple trees are a major part of Canadian life! Canadians wear maples on hats, uniforms and backpacks to identify themselves, a leaf adorns our national flag, and a maple leaf is a symbol of Canada worldwide.

Read on to discover the different types of maples. The images below are all specimens from the National Herbarium of Canada—over 1 000 000 specimens housed at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Founded in 1882, the collection is a resource for research and education worldwide.

The museum's botanists lead an international project on Arctic plants of Canada and Alaska. This research will expand the museum's collection, identify new species, and explore how living systems handle climate change.

Canadian-Maple Characteristics

Ten native species of maple—from small shrubs to tall trees—grow in Canada. They offer shade, beauty, food, shelter, timber and other useful products.

Which species of maple do you think looks most like the one on the flag?

© Canadian Museum of Nature

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Sugar Maple

Acer saccharum

Native to Eastern Canada, the sugar maple thrives in deep, moist soil and provides the most sap for maple syrup. It is Canada's national tree. This specimen was collected by J.A. Forsythe and D.S. Christie in Mount Marie, New Brunswick, in 1979.

© Canadian Museum of Nature

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Black Maple

Acer nigrum

The hard wood of the black maple is used for timber, furniture, fuel and more. This tree is a close relative of the sugar maple. This specimen was collected by F.F. Marie-Victorin and Rolland-Germain, in Sainte-Thérèse, Quebec, in 1935.

© Canadian Museum of Nature

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Manitoba Maple

Acer negundo

Despite its name, the Manitoba maple is found in every province. This fast-growing, weaker species creates windbreaks and controls erosion, but lives only 60 years. This specimen was collected by Albert W. Dugal, in Greely, Ontario, in 1976.

© Canadian Museum of Nature

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Red Maple

Acer rubrum

Named for its striking colour in autumn, the red maple is a popular ornamental tree. A single tree produces over 90 000 seeds in a season. This specimen was collected by J. Macoun, in Wakefield, Quebec, in 1903.

© Canadian Museum of Nature

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Silver Maple

Acer saccharinum

The silver maple's leaves have a pale green surface and a silver-white underside. Many silver maples contain cavities that offer shelter for birds and small mammals. This specimen was collected by H.J. Scoggan, in Seven Sisters Falls, Manitoba, in 1951.

© Canadian Museum of Nature

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Bigleaf Maple

Acer macrophyllum

The bigleaf maple is Canada's tallest maple: its leaves can be 60 cm across. Found in southwest British Columbia, it can live for 250 years. This specimen was collected by T.C. Brayshaw, in Hope, British Columbia, in 1957.

© Canadian Museum of Nature

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Douglas Maple

Acer glabrum subspecies douglasii

The Douglas maple is a winter food source for moose, elk and deer. Aboriginal peoples used its supple wood for snowshoes, fishing hoops and bows. This specimen was collected by A.E. Porsild and A.J. Breitung, in Banff, Alberta, in 1946.

© Canadian Museum of Nature

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Mountain Maple

Acer spicatum

The mountain maple is a shrub or short tree whose roots help prevent erosion. Moose and snowshoe hares feed on mountain maple. This specimen was collected by J.H. Hudson, in Red Deer River, Alberta, in 1988.

© Canadian Museum of Nature

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Striped Maple

Acer pensylvanicum

The striped maple, with its green-and-white bark, thrives in forest undergrowth, in ravines and on northern slopes in Eastern Canada. Leaves turn yellow in autumn. This specimen was collected by J. Macoun, in Margaree, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, in 1898.

© Canadian Museum of Nature

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Vine Maple

Acer circinatum

The vine maple has a short, crooked trunk. West Coast Aboriginal peoples used this shrub or small tree for tea and medicine, and even snowshoes and bows. This specimen was collected by T. C. Brayshaw, in Hope, British Columbia, in 1963.