Scientific name: Acer macrophyllum
Native American names: paddle tree (Lakwungen of Vancouver Island)
Plant family: Aceraceae
Description: Bigleaf maple is a large perennial tree, often multi-stemmed, and up to 35m tall. Young bark is green and smooth while older bark is gray-brown, ridged, and often covered with mosses, lichens, and ferns. Older trees provide an ideal environment for mosses because the bark is rich in calcium and moisture. The leaves are 5 lobed maple leaves 15-30 cm across. They are opposite, deciduous, and they excrete a milky sap when cut. The leaves turn yellow and fall off the tree in autumn. Theflowers are greenish-yellow cylindrical clusters with flowers 3mm across. The fruit are golden-brown, paired winged seeds (samaras) about 3-6cm long, with wings spread in a v-shape.
Habitat and Range: Bigleaf maple is found in dry to moist sites, often surrounded by Douglas fir. Also often found on sites disturbed by fire, clearing, or logging.2 It is found in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia from low to middle elevations.
Historical and Contemporary Uses: In the Interior of British Columbia, indigenous people ate the young shoots raw in the spring. They also made a type of maple syrup, but because the sap has a low sugar content, it takes a large quantity of sap to make a small amount of syrup. The flowers are quite sweet and edible, and can be used in salads. The Saanich of British Columbia used preparations from this tree to internally treat sore throats. Also, the leaves were rubbed on a young man’s face at puberty to ensure he would not grow thick whiskers.
Coastal peoples of British Columbia used bigleaf maple wood to make dishes and pipes, among other tools. Many groups along the Western Seaboard made paddles out of the wood, thus the name: paddle tree. The inner bark is used to make baskets, rope and whisks. The leaves are great for making temporary containers.
Because of its close grain and moderate hardness, today, maple wood is used commercially for furniture, interior finishing, and musical instruments.