Box elder

Box elder (Acer negundo)

The box elder is one of the unsung heroes of Vine Creek.  The tree shown here bears witness to the historical erosion that has taken place in this area--much of this box elder's root system is now exposed. The tree is still alive and doing its job of slowing down the water in the creek. If you look closely you will see many box elder trees holding the soil along the creek.

The box elder is actually closely related to maples--it is in the same genus as the other maples. Most maples have simple leaves with palmate venation; the box elder actually has palmately compound leaves. The leaves are very similar to those of poison ivy, so if you are allergic you might want to learn to identify both.

Box elder isn't a very popular tree with homeowners.  One reason is that it can spread by both suckers and by seeds.  The plant is dioecious, which means that males trees do not make seeds and female trees do.  Like the seeds of other maples, these provide an important food source for many animals. Unlike in some maples, in box elder the seeds may remain on the tree during the winter and thus provide food over a longer period. 

Some people are also put off by the box elder bugs, which may be quite numerous on these trees.  However, although these native insects can create a nuisance when they get into houses, they are harmless. 

In naturalized areas like along Vine Cree, this tree deserves to be more widely recognized and planted.  We like to leave the seedlings, especially along the creek banks where they can help hold the soil and prevent erosion. We are also experimenting with using it for live staking