Like most people in Ann Arbor, I awoke last Thursday to a chilly, quiet home. The ice storm had knocked out power. I took a walk around the neighborhood after the ice had finished accumulating and before it melted.
Maples are a small share of trees in my neighborhood but they made up the majority of trees I saw that had suffered major storm damage. Winter tree identification is a challenge for a novice like me, but I can often spot the common species of the maple family (Acer ) from their shape and bark. And because of the mild winter we’ve had, Ann Arbor’s maples were already sporting distinctive buds. I wasn’t able to pin down the species of maples I saw, but I remembered some individual specimens from their summer leaves. These were mostly Norway maples and silver maples.
Here’s a picture I took of ice-encased buds on a branch that had crashed to the ground:
Norway maples are an invasive species in Michigan and are now reviled across North America. Unfortunately, they were planted for years in cities, including in Ann Arbor. Silver maples are native to Michigan. Both species are known for being fast-growing, weak trees that are especially prone to storm damage.
On Sunday I was out on foot and bike and snapped a couple of pictures of maple trees that had failed:
(Please comment if you recognize specific species – I hope I didn’t get overconfident with my winter tree ID!)
The streets near my home are lined with mature oaks and I was struck by how little damage they suffered. One neighbor in particular has a dozen towering oaks and hardly had to clean up a branch. It got me wondering, what share of the electricity outages were attributable to the planting of maples near the power lines? If planting hardier trees would have avoided even a small fraction of outages, that might translate into fewer days without heat and refrigeration for many.
I am no expert here, just speculating from what I notice on the streets. I’d be curious to hear from urban foresters, arborists, and lineworkers who cleaned up the tree damage. I wonder, though, if we could build a little resilience against future outages by replacing and eliminating Norway maples and ensuring that silver maples are planted far from vital infrastructure.
In the meantime, my understanding is that the sap of the Norway maple has enough sugar to render it into syrup. And I’ve made syrup myself from silver maples. I have all of the equipment needed for syrup-making, but no maple tree to tap, and it’s unlikely I’ll get to it this spring. Let me know if you want to borrow my setup. And plant strong tree species.