There are a variety of maple tree species; though there is some variation in their appearance, they all have unique, highly-recognizable leaves. But did you know there are other trees that have similar leaves? It would be easy to confuse these trees with maples. Read on to learn more about the trees that look like maple trees and how to tell them apart.
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Trees That Look Like Maple Trees
There are 15 species of sweetgum trees found in North America, Europe, and Asia. They are known by many common names, including redgum trees, satin-walnut trees, and gum trees.
These trees have star-shaped, palmate leaves, each with five to seven lobes. It is these leaves, along with their furrowed bark and tall stature, that give sweetgum trees a similar appearance to maple trees.
Depending on the species, sweetgum trees may have green, red, yellow, or purple leaves. The leaves turn even brighter colors in the fall, like maples do.
One thing that sets sweetgum trees apart from maples is the fruit they produce. While maples release winged seed pods known as samaras, sweetgum trees produce hard, prickly, woody seed capsules sometimes known as “gumballs”.
When cut or damaged, sweetgum trees release a sticky, resinous sap–hence their name. This sap is quite different from the large amounts of liquid, clear sap which maple trees are known for producing.
So, despite similarities in appearance, there are definite ways to tell sweetgum trees apart from maples–as long as you know what you are looking for.
Sycamore trees can be found throughout the world and are extremely common in North America. There are about six species of sycamore, and they are sometimes called plane trees.
Sycamore trees grow quite large, up to 130 feet. Though some maples can also grow this large, many maple species are smaller.
Sycamores are commonly confused with maples because of their leaves. The leaves appear very similar to maple leaves, as they are palmate and divided into three to five lobes.
The leaves also tend to turn bright yellow or yellow-brown in the fall.
Though the leaves are very similar in shape and appearance, they are generally larger than maple leaves. What’s more, they are arranged alternately on stems, while maple leaves have an opposite arrangement.
Aside from these minor differences, sycamore trees have other features that set them apart from maples.
They have a thin, papery bark that often flakes away, revealing patches of white, yellow, gray, and tan. This gives sycamore tree trunks a unique camouflage appearance.
Sycamore trees produce seed balls filled with tightly-compacted, fuzzy seeds. These are green for most of the year before turning brown at maturity.
These two features–the papery bark and fuzzy seed balls–are unique features of sycamore trees and make them easy to distinguish from other types of trees, even maples.
Check out this video to learn more about one species of this tree, the American sycamore:
3. White Poplar
The white popular is a species of tree within the Populus genus. It is native to parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia, though it has been introduced to many other parts of the world as well.
These trees typically grow between 50 and 100 feet tall, and they produce maple-shaped palmate leaves with five lobes. The leaves are usually small, two to four inches, though some can grow up to six inches in diameter.
Though they look like maple leaves, they have some distinguishing features. They are dark green on top with a silver to whitish appearance on the bottom, and the underside is coated in fine, soft hairs.
What’s more, white poplars can be easily identified by their trunks, which are typically white or gray-green in color. The bark appears to be ringed, and there are patterns of dark, diamond-shaped markings up and down the trunk.
Because of the appearance of the trunk, white poplars often look like birch trees with maple-shaped leaves. The distinctive whitish bark is what sets them apart from true maple trees.
Tulip trees are common in parts of eastern North America, with a related species found in parts of Asia. These trees are sometimes called yellow poplars, though they are not in the poplar family.
Tulip trees can grow to nearly 200 feet tall, though most are somewhat shorter. Their size alone often differentiates them from maple trees.
Tulip tree leaves are somewhat similar to maple leaves, though they too have their own distinct appearance. Though they are palmate, like maple leaves, they typically have four lobes and are mostly flat across the top.
Tulip tree leaves are usually larger than maple leaves as well.
Tulip trees also produce tulip-shaped flowers, white to orangish in color. Though they produce samaras, as maple trees do, the samaras are tightly packed together and, when broken apart, do not have the distinctive shape that maple samaras are known for.
5. Maple Leaf Viburnum
Maple leaf viburnums are found throughout much of eastern North America. They are shrubs rather than trees, as they only grow up to about seven feet tall.
That said, they have a place on this list because they can easily be mistaken for maple tree saplings. The leaves are oppositely arranged, like maple leaves, and grow to about the same size as true maple leaves.
The leaves have three to five lobes and have a serrated appearance. They are covered in short, fuzzy hairs.
In the fall, the leaves of this shrub may turn a variety of bright colors, including yellow, orange, red, pink, or even purplish.
The easiest way to tell these plants apart from maple saplings is to look at their flowers and fruit. They produce clusters of white flowers which mature into clusters of berry-like fruits, red to purple to black in color.
As you can see, there are several trees and plants that can be confused with maple trees, though they typically have unique features that can be used to tell them apart. Some of these plants include sycamore trees, white poplar trees, and maple leaf viburnum shrubs.