How to Identify Maple Tree Buds

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Use the buds on a maple tree to identify its species.
Use the buds on a maple tree to identify its species. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

More than 100 species of maple tree exist, with 14 occurring naturally in the United States. These numbers make it potentially difficult to name the tree that you encounter and, coupled with the fact that maples lose their leaves and flowers during the winter, this makes it even harder. Fortunately, you have the option to inspect the buds on the tree, which are located at the end of the branches. Use the distinctive characteristics of the buds to help you identify maple trees like the autumn blaze or tatarian maple.

Inspect the tips -- the farthest part away from the branch -- of the maple tree bud. Although maple buds are triangular in form, species like the sugar maple and sycamore maple have distinctive, pointy tips at the end.

Count the number of overlapping parts, or scales, that the maple tree bud displays. The sugar maple, for instance, has six to 10 pairs of scales on each bud.

Write down the color of the bud to help pinpoint the variety. The red maple bud, as an example, turns a dark red shade before its brilliant red flowers follow in the months of March and April.

Inspect the color of the branch on which the maple tree bud is growing. Younger silver maple trees, for instance, grow red buds on top of bright orange stems, which differentiates it from the red maple.

Feel the maple tree bud to note its texture. The black maple bud has a hairy, egg-shaped bud and the Norway maple displays a hairy, yellowish-green covering over the buds that measure 1/4 inch.

Launch the United States Department of Agriculture Plants Database website (see Resources) and enter the term "maple" in the text field on the left. Select the "Common Name" option from the text field below your entry and click the "Go" button. Click through the resulting links until you identify your maple tree bud.

Tips & Warnings

  • You also have the option to contact the county agricultural extension office where the maple tree is located to get help with identifying the bud.

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