Hansen's Northwest Native Plant Database

Acer glabrum (Douglas Maple, Rocky Mountain Maple)



   Plantae – Plants


   Tracheobionta – Vascular plants


   Spermatophyta – Seed plants


   Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants


   Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons






   Aceraceae – Maple family


   Acer L. – maple


   Acer glabrum Torr. – Rocky Mountain maple

Douglas Maple is native to both sides of the Cascades, from southeastern Alaska to southwestern Alberta and south into New Mexico and California. It thrives at high elevations and is hardy to USDA zones 5-10.

Similar to but hardier than Vine Maple, this tree is often multi-stemmed. It reaches its maximum height of 30' quickly.

In autumn it puts on a splendid display of orange, red and yellow colors.

Description: Douglas Maple is a superbly contoured shrub or small tree. Its narrow, elliptical crown is comprised of slight branches reaching upright towards the skies.

Slim, young twigs are smooth and reddish, but as the plant matures the thin bark becomes grayish or brown. Deep emerald green leaves with pale undersides are supported by elongated wine-colored petioles.

Tolerance and beauty are Douglas Maple’s ornamental virtues. It is chosen for its ability to flourish in moist as well as xeric soils, its tolerance of both sunny and shady sites, and its striking autumn pageantry.

Habit: The doubly serrate leaves of Douglas Maple are coarsely toothed and lobed 3 to 5 times. Leaves measure from 1.5 to 4.5 inches long and 1 to 3 inches across. In autumn, the leaves become a bouquet of warm hues; bright yellows, deep reds and warm oranges mingle into a superb medley of colors.


Inconspicuous greenish-yellow flowers emerge in spring and dangle in drooping clusters along with the verdant foliage. The flowers are usually imperfect, having separate female and male flowers, and are characterized by 4 narrow, green sepals and 4 rounded petals.

Following pollination by wind or insect, the delicate double samara develops. Long, lacy green wings develop to an approximate length of ¾ to 1 inch containing a single seed. When young, the samaras are tinged with crimson, but before the mature fruit is released into the wind, the “V” shaped wings turn light coffee brown.

Habitat and Range: Douglas Maple is found mainly in moist, well-drained soils of mountain slopes and canyons. This species is quite variable and populates the understories of coniferous and hardwood forests, dry ridges, forest edges, floodplains and uplands from mid to high elevations.

The species is closely tied to fire and stand regeneration is sometimes considered fire dependant. Having a range extending as far north as southeastern Alaska, Douglas Maple is considered the northernmost maple growing in North America. Douglas Maple extends from Alaska through British Columbia and Alberta, proceeds down to New Mexico and southern California.

This native is found in the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon and continues east through Colorado to Nebraska and South Dakota.

Ornamental Values: As mentioned previously, this plant is a highly valued ornamental that embraces a multitude of landscape conditions. Tolerant of full sun and shade, the species succeeds even with drought and high temperatures. Low to moderate water use makes this species an attractive addition to un-irrigated landscapes.


Photo, above center, credit: Stan Shebs


Photo, above center, credit: Stan Shebs


Photo, above, credit: Walter Siegmund

The moderate grower gains about 1 foot per year. It prefers soils to be slightly acidic to slightly basic, but is really not very finicky about soil pH levels. Douglas Maple is considered hardy to Zone 5. Plant the seedling in a sunny spot for bright autumn colors. If you notice some chlorotic mottling on the leaves, the plant is probably suffering from an iron deficiency in the soil.

Native Plant Gardening/Wildlife Habitat: Whether you’re considering this species for a native plant garden or wildlife improvement project, the plant is an important low maintenance addition and provides birds and beasts alike with excellent habitat. Large game animals such as mule deer, elk and moose, as well as domestic livestock, forage on Douglas Maple’s tender buds and nutritious new growth. The buds and young twigs are especially vital to deer and elk during the long, harsh winter.

The shrub is a perfect hideaway for large game, small mammals, and nesting or roosting birds. Grouse, grosbeaks, squirrels, chipmunks, and other small forest dwellers fatten up for the winter on maple seeds. Plant communities that are home to Douglas Maple also may include Subalpine Fir (Abies laciocarpa), birch (Betula sp.), Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuliodes), Kinnikinnik (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), Red-Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea), Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor), Oregon Boxwood (Paxistima myrsinites), Common Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), Western Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale), and Twinflower (Linnaea borealis).

Restoration and Mitigation Values: Douglas Maple thrives on disturbed sites, it is often found on the lower slopes of avalanche paths and easily establishes on sites uninhabitable by other species. The prolific re-sprouter is an early pioneer on disturbed lands, creating favorable conditions for other species to begin their succession.

The maple is often used for re-vegetation projects on steep cut slopes and roadsides. The deep, wide-spreading root system promotes the binding of loose soil particles and controls the erosion of barren slopes. A principal character in riparian and wetland environments, the species is highly recommended for many restoration projects in the West.

Historical and Cultural Uses: Douglas Maple wood is dense, close grained and pliable. The light brown wood was carved into snowshoe frames, ceremonial pieces, drum hoops, and bows by Native Americans. The wood is also a good source of fuel, but not for commercial purposes. The inner bark of the tree creates a tough fiber that was gathered and worked into mats and ropes.

Edible and Medicinal Uses*: Shoots and seedlings can be collected and eaten fresh or cooked like asparagus. The samara seeds can be boiled and eaten, but it is usually only done so in an emergency.

The sap can also provide some sweet nutrition. However, it doesn’t rival the syrup made from prized sugar maple of back east.

Douglas Maple is said to be useful in curing nausea. The wood and bark are combined with twigs of Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia) and made into a solution that purportedly improves the healing process of a woman following childbirth. The concoction has also been used to increase lactation.

NOTE: Please use caution when preparing or eating any parts of a plant. Identification of the species and knowledge of a plant’s toxicity are both essential before using any plant species medicinally or otherwise. Please consult with a heath professional before attempting to treat any ailment.

Propagation Techniques:

Seeds – The fruits may be collected when green and sown directly into cold frames. The seed develops a somewhat thick coat when mature that normally delays germination for two years. Be selective when gathering the green fruits. Seeds that are not developed enough will produce weak plants. The seeds can be collected and stored for later use; they are viable for up to 3 years.

Soak the dried seed in water for at least 24 hours and place into trays to cold stratify in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 months. Some recommend warm stratification for 4 months followed by 4 months of cold stratification. Be careful to provide a well-drained potting medium.

Overly moist soils can contribute to the growth of damping-off fungus. Seedlings have better success rates when planted in partially shaded spots.

Vegetative Layering is successful propagation technique for most maples. Take a nice shoot on the maple and bend it into a “U” shape. The bottom of the stem can be wounded by using a small knife to scrape away a bit of the bark and encourage the growth of roots. Anchor the bottom of the “U” into a few inches of soil. You’ll have a new maple in about a year.

Cuttings are another option, but timing is critical. The stems can be gathered in June and early July and should have two or three pairs of leaves. Before placing the cutting directly into soil, remove a thin strip of the bark off the base of the cutting. You may want to try dipping the cut end in some rooting hormone first.

For a short comparison of northwest native maples, click here.

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Thank you to the following references for their invaluable information:

Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and Mackinnon (1994)


Western Forests, A National Audubon Society Nature Guide by Stephen Whitney (1985)


Flora of the Pacific Northwest by C.L. Hitchcock & A. Cronquist, University of Washington Press (1973)


Trees, Shrubs, & Flowers to know in British Columbia & Washington by C.P. Lyons, Lone Pine Publishing (1995)


Collecting, Processing and Germinating Seeds of Wildland Plants by J.A. Young and C.G. Young, Timberland Press (1986)


Trees to know in Oregon by Oregon State University Extension Service & Oregon Department of Forestry, Extension Circular 1450 (1995)


The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation from seed to tissue culture by M.A. Dirr and C.W. Heuser, Jr., Varsity Press, Inc. (1987)


Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest by Russell Link, University of Washington Press & Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (1999)


Naturescaping, A Landscaping Partnership with Nature by Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (2001)


US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (2002, February) http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/


BCAdventure.com http://www.bcadventure.com/adventure/wilderness/forest/


Backcountry Rangers, Edible Sierra Nevada Plants Guide http://www.backcountryrangers.com/

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