Box Elder

Acer negundo L. – Sapindaceae – soapberry family

Box elder, or boxelder, is an occasional street tree in Albion.  It is a distinctive type of maple with leaves that are divided into leaflets (compound leaves) and green twigs.  The trees that we call maples have simple leaves that are lobed, but are not divided into separate leaflets.  Most box elder leaves have three leaflets and larger odd numbers are also found.  Like all of our maples, the box elder has the distinctive paired winged fruits (samaras), which ‘helicopter’ downward when they break into single-seeded units, and leaves that are opposite each other on the stem.

Nearly everyone in Albion has probably encountered the black and orange insects called box elder bugs, especially in the fall when they move into houses in order to find overwintering sites.  These guys usually lay their eggs on box elder trees in the spring, although we have also encountered them commonly on silver maples.

The young seedlings or sprouts of the box elder superficially resemble poison ivy plants. However, box elder leaves are opposite while those of poison ivy are borne singly, i.e., are alternate.