As brilliant displays of fall color begin to erupt around us, keep your eye out this fall for an often secretive native Arizona species that gifts the forest with one of my favorite fall displays of all. Although maple trees of all flavors and varieties are a common forest member east of the Mississippi, the same is not so for the Southwest.
The Bigtooth Maple is our only native maple tree in Arizona. It’s leaves, the iconic star shape of the maple leaf, are a pint-sized version of its eastern relatives, usually with a span of less than 2 inches. Like their eastern cousins, however, they transition from emerald green into a deep and glowing red in the months of September and October.
Bigtooth Maples, often found solitary and isolated amongst the matrix of forest trees, truly pops and reveals its location in this fall cloak of red. Sometimes referred to as a “canyon maple”, these trees prefer the shadier, cooler, and wetter conditions found in and around the canyon bottoms of coniferous forests. I will often find these maples on the top edges and down into the head canyons of the north flowing drainages along Forest Road 300.
Their remarkable orange to red colors, coupled with their bushier canopy growth, makes it an easier ID this time of year. A closer look at the tree and the iconic maple leaf shape is unmistakable. For fall color enthusiasts, keep an eye out for this pint-sized maple in the coming weeks.