Although I’ve seen bigleaf maples (Acer macrophyllum, Aceraceae) a number of times in the Pacific Northwest, it was their fallen leaves on my past trip that really caught my attention. Littering the ground east of Portland, Oregon they decorated the landscape with their autumn color and astounding size.
These trees are found within about 200 miles (320 km) of the Pacific Ocean from northern California to British Columbia, Canada. They’re one of the few significant hardwood trees to be found in an area otherwise dominated by conifers. They only grow to about 50 feet (15 m) in height with a diameter of 20 inches (50 cm) d.b.h. (diameter at breast height) but they are useful in many ways. In the wild their huge leaves are stunning, reaching widths of up to 24 inches (61 cm). In populated areas cultivated plants provide excellent shade. Their wood is valuable to the furniture and musical instrument industries, and their sap can be made into syrup. In many ways they’re like the familiar sugar maple (Acer saccharum) that is common in the northeastern United States and southeast Canada, but with a more stunning fairy-tale like appearance.