The Ashleaf Maple - Box Elder

Acer negundo

Ashleaf Maples (Acer negundo) are also known as Box Elders although this name does a poor job of giving reference to the taxonomic relationships of the species. You see, it’s not an elder. Instead, like other maples, they are in the family Sapindaceae.

Other names

Other names for the tree include include Ash Maple, Ash-leaf Maple, Black Ash, California Boxelder, Cutleaf Maple, Cut-leaved Maple, Negundo Maple, Red River maple, Stinking Ash, Sugar Ash, Three-leaved Maple and Western Boxelder.

The Poison-Ivy Look-alike

Ashleaf Maples are sometimes misidentified by amateur outdoor enthusiasts as poison ivy. The leaf of the tree often has 3 leaflets that resemble those of poison ivy. Ashleaf Maple is in no way dangerous though and it is easily distinguished with a closer look at the plant.


Tree Size: Small short-lived tree that grows from 10 to 2 m tall.  The trunk has as diameter of 30 to 50 cm.

Branch color: Branches are green in color.  Sometimes the bark on the trunk is pale gray or light brown.  Shots are green with a whitish to pink or violet waxy coating when young.

Leaves: Leaves are pinnately compound and usually have from 3 to 5 leaflets.  Sometimes there are seven present but this is rare.  The leaflets are 5-10 cm long and half as wide.  They have serrate margins
(edges).  The color is light green and they turn yellow in the fall.

Flowers:  The flowers are small and appear in the early spring. Seeds are slender, 1-2 cm long and have incurved wings.  They drop on the fall. The plant is dioecious meaning that there are male trees and female trees.

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Written by Rob Nelson

Rob is an ecologist from the University of Hawaii. He is the co-creator and director of Untamed Science. His goal is to create videos and content that are entertaining, accurate, and educational. When he's not making science content, he races whitewater kayaks and works on Stone Age Man.

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