Box Elder Tree (Acer Negundo) Maple Care, Identification, Planting Tips

Box Elder tree leaves showing the maple tree features that are different from others, along with Box elder bark and branches.

The Box Elder Tree (Acer negundo) is known for thriving in growing conditions with little to no care, producing a large amount of seeds, and being the primary home of Boxelder bugs.

In fact, there’s a lot more to this tree than you might realize, and it’s considered special and unique for a wide variety of reasons.

One specific aspect that nature enthusiasts will often point out is the compound leaves of this type of Maple Tree.

The unique features make knowing how to identify a Box Elder tree simple, once you know what to look for.

This complete guide explains those features and also offers growing and care tips for any Box Elders you have on your property.

Box Elder Tree: Facts and Attributes

This special type of Maple tree has some interesting features.

Box Elder Tree, Ashleaf Maple

(Acer negundo)

Close up of Box Elder tree leaves in oval frame on green background.
  • Family: Sapindaceae
  • Genus: Acer
  • Leaf: Green; pinnately compound
  • Bark: Brown; ridged
  • Seed: Helicopter seeds
  • Blossoms: Cream, Yellow, Green; Corymb
  • Fruit: Brown, Yellow, Green; Samara
  • Native Habitat: North America
  • Height: 30-50 Feet
  • Canopy: 30-50 Feet
  • Type: Deciduous

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Not Evaluated


How To Identify Box Elder Tree (Box Elder Tree Identification)

You can identify Box Elder Tree through the following attributes:

  • 30-50 feet of height for mature trees
  • 30-50 feet width for mature trees
  • Brown and ridged bark for mature trees
  • Samara fruit that appears in pair clusters, light green to brown in color
  • Pinnately compound, green serrated leaves that are 2-4 inches in length, have 3-5 leaflets, and resemble Poison Ivy
  • Winged or helicopter seeds

These trees are known to start the generation of seeds at scale, in the season before summer, in spring.1,3 They are usually over the age of seven.4

It is certainly interesting to watch and see the differences present in the tree as it grows and matures. There are physical changes and then more nuanced processes taking place that add to the interesting aspects of this very compelling plant.

What Does a Boxelder Tree Look Like?

Sure, the height and the width of these trees are apparent but there are other characteristics to look out for when it comes to these plants. What else can you look for when it comes to Box Elder Tree plants?

Take a glance at the Box Elder Tree leaves that are pinnately compound and have 3-5 leaflets each; the Box Elder Samara fruit or helicopter seeds that have a winged appearance to them; and the Box Elder flowers that do not have petals on them and dangle from branches.

Box Elder Tree Identification chart showing Box Elder Tree leaf, Box Elder Tree flowers, Box Elder Tree seed pods, and Box Elder Tree bark images in circle frames on green background.

There are a few aspects to look out for when it comes to distinguishing between the older trees and younger trees. The younger trees will have wonderfully vibrant green branches while trees that have been around longer will have distinction in the bark.

Ensure to conduct thorough inspection of the bark to find out more about this captivating plant form. The bark can certainly shed light on a wide variety of aspects that can relate to health, age, and other relevant traits.

What Do Box Elder Tree Leaves Look Like?

Typically, Box Elder Tree leaves are pinnately compound. That is an intriguing word.

What does it mean?

It means that multiple leaflets grow from the same stalk. The leaves can also be bipinnately compound, which refers to smaller leaflets growing from the leaflets themselves.

Lastly, they are also palmately compound, which outlines that they have pointed projections, also known as lobed in shape.2 Due to these properties, Box Elder Tree leaves have about 3-5 leaflets.

These attributes also give the Box Elder Tree its signature green foliage that is lobed and serrated.

Box Elder Tree leaves are green in the spring and summer, but turn into brown or gold during autumn. With that being said, the fall foliage of the Box Elder Tree remains unremarkable and does not provide picturesque sights for landscaping.

This makes it rank lower on the list of desirable plants by many homeowners and landscapers who want to get a visual kick out of their planting efforts.

If you are one of these individuals who like to have more of a visual impact when it comes to your specific plants, then it may be a good idea to factor this into your decision making process. If the appearance is high on your list of requirements when it comes to plants, this plant may suffice but may not be as compelling as other options.

What Does Box Elder Tree Flower Look Like?

The Box Elder Tree flower is corymb and has no petals.23 This makes these flowers have a hanging look to them as they dangle from their respective branches.

Despite not sticking out from the rest of the tree as much, the Box Elder Tree flower sports a range of colors including cream, yellow, gold, and green.

Some flowers may also appear as tan.

Closeup of Box Elder Tree showing a clusters of yellow and green flowers with reddish tips on the Box Elder Tree stem.

(Image: WikimediaImages29)

The Box Elder Tree flower is dioecious, which means that a Box Elder male and female tree grows separate and different flowers. You may also find male Box Elder Trees to boast of more attractive flowers than their female counterparts.2

The flowers bloom in early spring, which allows them to become an identification factor for the Box Elder Tree during the spring.

What Do Box Elder Tree Seeds Look Like?

Box Elder Tree seeds are found inside the Box Elder Samara fruit. The fruit has a winged appearance to it with its ends pointing downwards.

The Box Elder fruit itself turns from a yellow to a brown color when it ripens in autumn.

Once the ripened fruit falls to the ground, its winged formation makes it drop like a helicopter propeller. This results in Box Elder Tree seeds receiving different names that are associated with helicopters.

Plants in the Box Elder Tree category are known for their massive production of seeds. It is more visible after the seeds have gone through a scarification event.

Afterwards, you can use them to plant new Box Elder Trees.

How To Get Rid of Maple Tree Helicopters

It is possible to remove them by conducting regular cleansing in the general area. This cleansing process becomes more simple with a sheet that is placed around the tree.

The seeds fall, the sheet is picked up, and the seeds of the Box Elder Tree are displaced.

Box Elder vs Poison Ivy: What’s the Difference?

Box Elder is a deciduous tree, while Poison Ivy is a vine. They are certainly quite different in nature, as it were.

Nature enthusiasts can have a tad bit of confusion due to the fact that the leaves of these two plants look the same.

But remember, with poison ivy, it will be growing generally along the ground or up the trunk of a tree… leaves of 3, let it be.

Are Ashleaf Maple and Box Elder Tree the Same Tree?

Ashleaf Maple Trees are fantastic. You would certainly be correct if you think that this is the same as the Box Elder Tree.

It is merely the same tree by another name.

How To Stop Box Elder Tree Disease: Prevention and Care

The Box Elder Tree suffers from a number of diseases that include but are not limited to tar spot, powdery mildew, verticillium wilt, and slime flux. Each of these diseases have different treatments.

For instance, leaf spot disease prevention involves preventing excess moisture over tree leaves,24 while verticillium wilt is incurable, the best defense is making sure that the soil composition is excellent, and any branches that develop the disease should be removed immediately.

Low-angle shot of Box Elder Tree (Acer negundo) situated in front of a building showing trunk and branches with brownish-green leaves.

(Image: AnRo000230)

Similarly, the best way to control powdery mildew and slime flux is preventing these diseases by proper planting practices and avoiding injuries to the bark,25 respectively.

Speak to local professionals if you notice differences in the tree and believe it to be deteriorating in health.

How Much Carbon Does Box Elder Tree Sequester?

On an average basis, the gross carbon sequestration for the Box Elder Tree stands at approximately 0.06 metric ton per year.5 This puts the Box Elder Tree on par with many other species such as the Cowtail Pine, the Japanese Zelkova, and Chinese Wingnut that have the same average carbon sequestration rate.

Carbon sequestration is where plants remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air.6 Since the level of carbon sequestration can vary according to tree species, learning how different types of trees sequester carbon can help you determine their effectiveness during the process.

Related Reading: How Much Carbon Does a Tree Capture

Box Elder Tree Growing Zone Information

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides a comprehensive guide that allows you to determine whether the area that you live in provides optimal conditions for specific plants to thrive.

The Box Elder Tree growing zone follows a similar approach and can be found in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.7

The Box Elder Tree can be grown in USDA plant hardiness zone 2 to 9. That is a broad range, indicating immense flexibility.

Planting Tips for Box Elder Tree (Acer negundo)

If you plan to grow your own Acer negundo, you may benefit from learning different planting tips for Box Elder Tree.

When To Plant Box Elder Tree for the Best Yield

Box Elder Tree seeds go ripe in autumn. Once they fall from the tree, they can over-winter and be ready for germination in the spring.

This means that you can plant your Box Elder Tree during the winter.

With that being said, optimal germination requires that you first put the seeds through stratification at 33 degree Fahrenheit.4 The stratification process may take 60-90 days.

What Are the Best Growing Conditions for Box Elder Tree?

The Box Elder Tree is not high maintenance. It is often considered an invasive species that can thrive under minimal care and sprout from seeds that fall to the ground from the tree.8

With that being said, the best growing conditions for Box Elder Tree may include:

  • Full to partial sun exposure in winter
  • Partial shade from afternoon sun in the summer9
  • Moist locations2

Mature Box Elder Trees can tolerate sunlight and do not require shading.2

What Are the Watering Needs for Box Elder Tree Plants?

Even though the Box Elder Tree often thrives in moist soil found near waterways, moderate watering is fine, too.

It is also important to remember that even though the soil around the Box Elder Tree needs to be moist, it also has to be drained well.10

How Long It Takes To Grow Box Elder Tree

Box Elder Tree seeds overwinter and sprout in spring.

But before you plant your Box Elder Tree seeds, you may need to put them through stratification at 33 degree Fahrenheit for 60-90 days.4

Box Elder Tree growth chart showing full grown Box Elder Tree on a line graph with Box Elder Tree age on the x-axis and Box Elder Tree height on the y-axis.

Once your Box Elder Tree seeds have germinated, they may approximately grow around 1 inch in diameter per year, for the first 15-20 years. This allows a typical Box Elder Tree to grow a trunk of approximately 1 foot diameter within a decade.8

How Far Apart To Plant Box Elder Tree

Since the Box Elder Tree can reach a height and width of 30-50 feet, it is considered a medium-sized tree.11 Considering gardening best practices, it becomes ideal that when you plant multiple Box Elder Trees, you put a space of 30-40 feet between them.12

When the trees mature, this gives you a rich tree canopy that comprises the characteristically thick foliage of Acer negundo.2

How Much Sunlight Does Box Elder Tree Need Each Day?

Box Elder Trees require at least 6 hours under full sunlight a day. But they can also grow under partial shade for the same duration a day.

Direct afternoon sunlight in the summer can often burn the leaves of younger Box Elder Trees,9 but it is typically not a problem for mature trees.

What Are Some Common Pests of the Box Elder Tree?

One of the most common pests of the Box Elder Tree is synonymous with its name and called the Boxelder bug. While these bugs can also be found in Ash and Maple Trees,13 they most commonly make the Box Elder Tree their home.

With their black color and red outlines along their wings, the Boxelder bugs are easy to spot. They appear in spring and summer before starting to disappear in the fall, until they make their return the next year.

While Boxelder bugs do not damage property and simply feed on the tree sap that is found in Box Elder Trees, they are considered pesky mainly because of their ability to leave stains on surfaces.14

This makes them nuisance pests for homeowners.15 Additionally, this factor also contributes to the status of the Box Elder Tree as a troublesome plant that many people do not want near their surroundings.16

Beware of the Boxelder Twig Borer! This is yet another pest that is attracted to Acer negundo.

This pest is damaging to Box Elder Trees and makes them susceptible to irreversible damage.

But there’s more! The Fall Cankerworm joins this undesirable lineup as a cause of concern for Box Elder Tree leaves.17

Address these issues early.

Is There a Natural Pest Control for Box Elder Tree?

The most common pest for the Box Elder Tree is the Boxelder bug.

While scientific evidence remains scarce for natural pest control against Boxelder Bugs,26 you may still use certain scents that can deter Boxelder Bugs from your home.

Top shot of Box Elder Bug on a dried leaf showing ovate black body with orange markings.

(Image: Xfxgeforced31)

This includes the use of essential oils derived from plants such as tea tree, lavender, mint, lemongrass, and eucalyptus.27 You can spray these scents across your doorways or windows to see their effect.

Another household tip to repel Boxelder Bugs is to use a solution of dishwashing soap and water.28

What Are Some Companion Plants for Growing Box Elder Tree?

Some of the most popular companion plants for growing Box Elder Tree include Smokebush, Paper Birch, Purple Coneflower, and Switchgrass.18 But before you get these plants for your yard, garden, or public project, it is important to note that even though companion planting is a gardening practice that promotes the planting of certain plants for better results,19 it is not backed by detailed research.

While many of the widely talked about benefits of companion planting remain unproven by scientific research, many gardeners and arborists still consider it an essential tip to grow healthier and stronger plants.

Keeping this in mind, companion planting might help your Box Elder Tree, but you should not consider it as a surefire way to promote optimal growth for the plant.

Can You Start Growing Box Elder Tree From a Seed?

You can start growing Box Elder Tree from a seed. Box Elder Tree seeds develop on the tree through spring and summer before falling to the ground in autumn.

That is when you can take the seed, put it through stratification, and plant it to germinate the following spring. You can plant your Box Elder Tree seed in any type of soil.

But planting it in moist soil heightens the chances for best results.

Can You Start Growing a Box Elder Tree From a Cutting?

You can start growing Box Elder Tree from a cutting, but it can take a longer time as compared to growing Box Elder Tree from a seed.

While Box Elder seeds require stratification for 60-90 days, its cuttings call for a more detailed approach that starts from very small pots and progresses to larger pots.20

If you simply plant a cutting directly into the landscape, it may not grow roots and your efforts may go in vain.

Can You Start Growing a Box Elder Tree From a Seedling?

You can start growing Box Elder Tree from a seedling by planting it into the landscape. Seedlings require full sun to thrive but may need partial shade from the afternoon sun in the summer.9

You need to keep the soil moist for the seedling to grow,2 but you should also make sure that it is well-drained.

Is Box Elder Wood Strong?

Box Elder wood is not strong. On the contrary, it is quite pulpy and soft, which makes it weak and consequently unfavorable to be used in construction.

Low-angle shot of Box Elder Tree (Acer Negundo) showing trunk with deep fissures and green leaves growing on thin stems.

(Image: AnRo000232)

But the wood is still used by some in mixed wood applications and utilized in practices such as making crates and low quality furnishings.4 It can also be used as a finishing material in interior building elements.

What Are Different Types of Maple Trees?

Nature lovers will know that there are many types of Maple Trees that people will stumble upon in different regions! Some of them include Amur Maple, Coral Bark Maple, Fullmoon Maple, Red Maple, and Sugar Maple.

These different trees will have a couple of key distinctions. These different characteristics can be more pronounced or they may be subtle.

Thankfully, there is a growing body of information that is present to go further in-depth into the unique aspects of the wonderful plants.

Growing Zones for Box Elder Tree: Where To Grow

Due to its ability to grow with almost any type of soil and with little to no care, the Box Elder Tree can be found across various areas in the United States.21 But it best thrives in areas that fall under the USDA hardiness zone 2 to 9.22

If your area is a part of these USDA hardiness zone regions, you may grow your very own Acer negundo.

The Box Elder Tree Might Be Considered Invasive, But It Still Does Its Part for the Environment

After learning about the fast-growing nature of the Box Elder Tree as well its disadvantages such as Boxelder bugs, you can proceed to have deeper knowledge.

This can help you determine whether or not you should make the Box Elder Tree a part of your planting project.

Frequently Asked Questions About Box Elder Tree

What Is So Special About the Box Elder Leaf?

The Box Elder leaf is considered special because it is the only Maple Tree that has compound leaves or leaves with multiple leaflets growing from the same stalk.

How Is Box Elder Tree Different From the Maple Tree?

The Box Elder Tree is a species of Maple. The difference is found in the leaves.

Read More About Box Elder Tree


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30Acer negundo Photo by AnRo0002 / CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication. Resized and Changed Format. From Wikimedia Commond <>

31Box Elder Bug Photo by Xfxgeforced / Public Domain. Resized and Changed Format. From Wikimedia Commons <>

32Acer negundo (2014) Photo by AnRo0002 / CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication. Resized and Changed Format. From Wikimedia Common <>