By Dave Coulter
I’d guess that all arborists - like myself - have opinions about tree species that they like or dislike. I imagine our old friend the Silver Maple is one that inspires feelings in nearly everyone. Last week the local cyber-arbor community was all abuzz about a recent article that named the Silver Maple as a champion tree for carbon sequestration - which is a fancy way of saying “soaking up pollution.” Any sort of positive news about Silver maples gets folks riled up.
For myself, I’m pretty neutral about them. I appreciate their role in nature (they’re native to Illinois) but I doubt it would be my first choice for planting. That said, if I had one in my yard I wouldn‘t grouse. It seems that Silver Maples have gotten a bad rap, but every now and again a study will appear from somewhere trumpeting their good qualities. Among those I would include tolerance of damp clay soils and a vigorous growth habit.
I weighed in on the conversation by noting that our beloved Des Plaines River was thus named in honor of the maples growing along it’s banks by those intrepid 17th century French canoeists. The word “plain” is a cousin to the word “plane.” Maple trees apparently were also commonly called “plane trees” - like sycamores which also share the banks of local waterways.
And if you explore the Des Plaines today you will see that the Silver Maple is still a dominant species in the low areas. You have to admire any tree that can grow in spite of whatever is floating in that river these days. Now it appears this often maligned species is a weapon in the fight against atmospheric carbon and global warming. This dog may finally have it’s day?
So next time you gaze down the mighty Des Plaines, squint your eyes a little and use your imagination. That blurry scene that greets your retinas is in many ways what the locals saw some three hundred years ago. That is due - in a big way - to the durability of the Silver Maple which persists in a world that Marquette and Joliet would scarcely recognize once they got out of their canoes.