The Bigleaf Maple is by far the most common maple tree on Mayne Island. It is a broad-leaved deciduous tree with a wide, rounded crown that can reach a height of thirty metres or one hundred feet. They often have curved trunks and sport the largest leaves of all the Canadian maples at up to thirty cm or twelve inches across!
These maples have a broad shallow root system and will grow on wet sites with changing water tables. They appear alongside Douglas fir, red alder, and grand fir where they prefer moist nutrient rich soils. Bigleaf maples also grow in rock scree areas which offer free draining soils with air for the trees’ roots and plenty of water running below the surface. The seeds spin down to the ground like helicopter blades. Commonly known as samaras, these seeds are a food source for many animals within the forest canopy, including red squirrels.
The bark of the Bigleaf Maple is furrowed with narrow scaly ridges, and like the sugar maple it has sweet sap which can be made into syrup. They are resistant to damage from insects and fungi; however, the trunks and branches can be broken by wind and snow. The wood has an attractive grain and is used to produce furniture, flooring, interior panelling, and musical instruments. Considering its value to wildlife and its capacity to improve the soil, the Bigleaf Maple plays a significant role among the trees in the Southern Gulf Islands. Our concern today is the absence of young seedlings due to deer overpopulation.
Douglas Maples can also be found in open forests on Mayne Island, with some growing along the shore near Horton Bay, and others occurring alongside Bigleaf Maples below Vulture Ridge in Henderson Hill Community Park. They are small deciduous trees which can grow to a height of ten metres or thirty feet. The leaves reach ten cm or four inches in width and have coarsely toothed edges. The bark is thin, smooth, and dark reddish brown.
Douglas Maples grow best in wet well-drained soils, and in open forest patches. These trees tolerate drier sites and will stabilize slopes near the water. Their leaves, buds, twigs, and seeds all provide food for animals and insects.
The Vine Maple can occur naturally on Mayne Island, but today they only grow in areas with enough moisture. These beautiful understorey trees once grew naturally in the Southern Gulf Islands. However, when farmers cleared land for agriculture in the late 1800s the extent of wet forested ecosystems was greatly reduced. These areas can be recovered through re-establishment of the water table and protection of emerging tree cover.
If you are interested in growing maples here on Mayne Island, the Bigleaf Maple, Douglas Maple, and Vine Maple are all good trees to plant if you have the right site and can protect them from the deer when they are young. If you already have a maple tree, it is likely to be worth nurturing and protecting for both its beauty and ecological value.