The Humble But Useful Silver Maple

Remarkable Trees of BHMaples abound in Bolton Hill. In wetter cooler autumns, red maple varieties offer up their pleasing blaze of rouge. The invasive Norway maple is a hardy urban tree, but with duller fall color; it is disliked because it “takes over” and is stingy in benefits to our native wildlife. 

Also no showboat in the fall, the leaves of the silver maple (Acer saccharinum) turn a pale yellowish. Nonetheless I am very fond of an Acer saccharinum (not to be confused with the universally admired Acer sacchrum – sugar maple) up the alleyways from Johns Street Park. It is two-trunked and massive enough to shade four or five houses from our boiling summer heat. 

Nonetheless I am very fond of a neighborhood Acer saccharinum, towering above an alleyway off of John Street Park. It is two-trunked and massive enough to shade four or five houses from our boiling summer heat. 

This is a shambling, generous tree, with rough bark and rounded buds and seeds useful to squirrels and birds when other food is scarce. As early as February, it is important to my honeybees trying to make it through winter.

Native Americans used its wood for basket-making and furniture, and its sweet sap for bread-making and in medicine. The Mohegans used an infusion of bark taken from the south-facing side of these trees to make cough medicine.

Then as now, when the wind blows through its foliage, its green leaves ripple, showing their gray undersides. The canopy’s silvery effect is transporting. 

Bolton Hill’s Champion Trees

Remarkable Trees of BHWhen the National Forest Service was in its infancy, Maryland hired its first state arborist, Fred Besley, who was the third state forester in the entire US. In 1906 this was still a new concept—the idea that states should care for their timber assets rather than eradicate trees that had existed on the continent for millennia.

Besley created a tree-measuring formula that became standard throughout the nation. Citizens started working to save our biggest, oldest trees, even in the face of their industrial value.

Today, Maryland, like many states, has a Notable Tree Registry. Our Registry was developed by John Bennett and a cadre of statewide forestry boards volunteers. You can find more than 1750 notable trees in 23 counties and Baltimore City listed on the Notable Tree Registry (NB: the list is always a work-in-progress.)

Bolton Hill has two trees on the list. One is the marvelously massive English walnut, Juglans regia, in Jenkins Alley behind 1325 Bolton Street. Fred Chalfont and Ray Iturralde put me right after I misidentified this tree as a Black walnut in August’s Bulletin.

Ray and Fred are volunteers on the Baltimore City Forestry Board and are among those searching out and measuring Baltimore’s notable trees.

In contrast, Bolton Hill’s second, brand-new City champion is almost comically small. The larger of a pair of plucky live oaks—so-called because they retain their green leaves over winter—at 225 W. Lanvale Street, this is a sidewalk tree outside Sallye Perrin and John von Briesen’s house.

Quercus virginiana legendarily dominates southern cities like Savannah, Georgia. Climate change may allow these trees to survive in Baltimore.

Crape Myrtle, Lagerstroemia

crape myrtle
Crape myrtle in bloom.

Since July Lagerstroemia’s long-lasting, clustered blossoms have made summer gardens of our streets. White, mauve, raspberry, plum—the Victorian shades of these small trees’ flowers suit Bolton Hill. 

But all good things come to an end: in September their colors fast fade away.

The flowers are “perfect,” meaning they contain both female and male parts. Native to Asia, Lagerstroemia have decorated our southern landscapes since 1790, when French botanist Andre Michaux brought them to Charleston, SC.

The leaves are opposite each other on the twig, and “simple” with “entire” margins: meaning the leaf is not lobed and its edges are smooth rather than serrated. Honeybees and pollinating wasps are attracted to the bright generous flowers and to the residue left from crape myrtle aphid activity. Ladybugs keep the aphids in check.

Next, the leaves will give us nice fall color—but nothing so splendid as the sherbets shades of summer. And finally, all that will be left will be the mottled, smooth bark, which provides interest throughout the winter.