How to identify field maple
Can you recognise it?
For this nature adventure, you will need: A natural hedgerow, your field journal and nature activity book, some pens or pencils, a crayon and a camera for any snapshots.
Your task for this adventure, is: to correctly identify a field maple tree, make an annotated sketch of the parts of this tree and find it in your activity book. Ready? Let’s go!
About The Field Maple (Acer campestre)
The field maple, or Acer campestre, is a very common tree. It is frequently found in wild hedgerows and woodlands. It may also be found growing in parks and country estates. Field maples can live to a ripe old age. There are some that are over 300 years old!
It is a tree that at first glance looks very similar to the sycamore tree we looked at last week. But, if you remember, there are differences between them once you know what to look for.
Characteristics: Your clues for identifying field maples, are the leaves, flowers and seeds. In spring, the buds are a grey-brown colour, sometimes with darker lines or markings. During the summer, they have upright clusters of yellow-green, thin petal-ed flowers and small, dark green, rounded, star-shaped leaves. Finally, in the autumn, there it has lovely helicopter seeds.
Sometimes all the features of the tree may overlap – you might have buds, leaves, flowers and seeds all at the same time – or you my have only one clue to work with. Remember to use all available clues to help you. Also remember – not all clues might be on the tree itself – always have a look at the ground around the tree too.
How To Identify A Field Maple Tree
Buds – Unlike sycamore, the buds of this tree are not showy and easy to spot. They are a grey-brown colour, sometimes with black or darker brown markings. But, they can help you out when combined with other clues.
Leaves – Like sycamore, the leaves are star-shaped (palmate), but have 3-5 lobes, which are rounded and blunt at the ends – unlike the pointier, 5-lobed sycamore. They are also quite small. Much smaller than sycamore and Norway maple. (You can see all three leaves in our leaves field guide.) During the summer, they are a plain old dark green. But in the autumn months, you will see them peeping out of the hedgerows with a glorious golden-yellow sheen.
Flowers – The flowers of the field maple, are a pale, lime-green in colour and stand upright in little clusters. Each flower has a round, green center, yellow stamens and thin, spaced-out green-coloured petals.
Seeds – The seeds are a ‘helicopter’ type seed, or samara. They have two broad wings, which stick out almost horizontally on either side. During the summer months, they are tinged with red or pink, making them easy to identify. But, beware, they also look similar to the sycamore and Norway maple. To get them right, remember that Sycamore seeds are the closest together, field maple seeds are the widest apart and Norway maple seeds are in the middle. (You can see them all here.)
Your Nature Walk Activity
So, now we know how to spot a field maple, it is time for your nature adventure task!
Take a wild hedgerow or woodland nature walk and find a field maple tree. Once you have found it, look for landmarks to help you find it again, then note these down in your field diary.
Then, stand back and observe the tree. What shape is it? What is your overall impression of the tree? How does it move? How do the leaves move? What sound does it make when it blows in the wind?
Move in closer. Look at the bark. What colour is it? What texture? Is there any moss or lichen on it? If so, is it all the same type?
Glance at the twigs. Are they rigid and tough, or soft and bendy? Can you see any buds or leaf scars? Where are they? Along the main branches? Just on the twigs? All the way along the twigs? Or just at the tips?
Examine the leaves. How big are they? How do they feel? Rough or smooth, brittle or hairy? How prominent are the leaf veins?
Look at the flowers, if there are any – how big are they? Do they smell? Are they sticky? What types of insect are being attracted to them?
Notice any seeds – how big or small are the seeds? How far around the tree are they falling? Just beneath the tree or at a distance? Do they all spin the same way as they fall?
Now, take out your field books. Sketch in the outline of the tree and note down your observations on its overall impression, sounds and movement. Then make a rubbing of the bark. Note down or sketch any lichen types growing on it. Make a note of its colour.
Next, take a leaf rubbing, then sketch the leaf. Again, make a note of its colour and texture.
Then, draw any buds, flowers or seeds. Again, make sure to annotate them with colours, smells and textures etc, along with any other thought or observations.
Lastly, don’t forget to label the tree with its name, the date and where you found it. Remember, you may want to come back and re-examine the tree through its different seasons. You can also learn more about this lovely tree here.
I hope you enjoyed this nature walk tutorial? If you have any thoughts, you can let us know by clicking a star and leaving us a note in the comments underneath. You can share snapshots of your nature walks with us too – just use #mynaturenook or tag us with @my.nature.nook on Instagram.
Have fun and happy nature walking x