The Secrets of the Trees
We hold our Mystic Magic in the Forest weekend retreats at Rosliston, in Rosliston National Forest, near Burton upon Trent, just south of Derby in the Midlands. Our retreats are themed, but often include an appreciation of nature, walks, the significance of trees in Spiritual and Pagan history, and their myths and legends
This blog charts the story, in instalments, of those trees, and all of those to be found at Rosliston, around forty species. Each tree is to be found at Rosliston, but may also be found more widely around Great Britain, Europe, North America and beyond.
In these blogs I describe each tree, explain where they are found, what their history is and how they have related to our history. I also explore the myths and legends surrounding the trees in different countries and from different traditions as well as how herbalists have used them to treat human conditions and how products from the trees have been used throughout history.
I hope that you enjoy reading these tree blogs as much as I have enjoyed writing them for you. If you would like to come and see them in their natural habitat why not join us for one of our retreats?
Norway Maple – acer platanoides
This is a species of maple native to eastern and central Europe and western Asia, from France east to Russia, north to southern Scandinavia and southeast to northern Iran. It is a member of the soapberry and lychee family.
Acer platanoides is a deciduous tree, growing to 20–30 m (65–100 ft) tall with a trunk up to 1.5 m (5 ft) in diameter, and a broad, rounded crown. The bark is grey-brown and shallowly grooved. Unlike many other maples, mature trees do not tend to develop a shaggy bark. The shoots are green at first, soon becoming pale brown. The winter buds are shiny red-brown. The leaves are opposite, palmately lobed with five lobes, 7–14 cm.
Under ideal conditions in its native range, Norway maple may live up to 250 years, but often has a much shorter life expectancy; in North America, for example, sometimes only 60 years. Especially when used on streets, it can have insufficient space for its root network and is prone to the roots wrapping around themselves, girdling and killing the tree.
In addition, their roots tend to be quite shallow and thereby they easily out compete nearby plants for nutrient uptake. Norway maples often cause significant damage and clean-up costs for municipalities and homeowners when branches break off in storms as it is fast-growing and does not have strong wood.
From the field maple, the Norway maple is distinguished by its larger leaves with pointed, not blunt, lobes, and from the other species by the presence of one or more teeth on all of the lobes.
It is also frequently confused with the more distantly related Acer saccharum (sugar maple). The sugar maple is easy to differentiate by clear sap in the petiole (Leaf stem; Norway maple has white sap). The tips of the points on Norway maple leaves reduce to a fine “hair”, while the tips of the points on sugar maple leaves are, on close inspection, rounded.
On mature trees, sugar maple bark is shaggier, while Norway maple bark has small, often criss-crossing grooves. While the shape and angle of leaf lobes vary somewhat within all maple species, the leaf lobes of Norway maple tend to have a more triangular shape, in contrast to the more squarish lobes often seen on sugar maples.
The tree tends to grow out leaves earlier than most maples and holds its leaves somewhat longer in autumn. Seeds begin to be forming in mid-spring and ripen over the course of the summer months, finally dropping in the fall. Unlike some other maples that wait for the soil to warm up.
It is one of the few introduced species that can successfully invade and colonize a virgin forest. By comparison, in its native range, Norway maple is rarely a dominant species and instead occurs mostly as a scattered understory tree.
The wood is hard, yellowish-white to pale reddish, with the heartwood not distinct; it is used for furniture and turnery. Norway maple sits ambiguously between hard and soft maple with a Janka Hardness of 1,010 lbf (4,510 N).
The wood is rated as non-durable to perishable in regard to decay resistance. In Europe, it is used for furniture, flooring and musical instruments. Many Stradivarius and other older Italian violins are suspected to have been constructed from Norway maple.
Norway maple has been widely taken into cultivation in other areas, including western Europe northwest of its native range. It grows north of the Arctic Circle at Tromsø, Norway. It is favoured due to its tall trunk and tolerance of poor, compacted soils and urban pollution, conditions in which sugar maple has difficulty.
Because of the Norway maple’s invasive nature, the London plane, Platanus X acerifolia, is often recommended as a pollution tolerant urban tree for planting where trees cannot be allowed to freely colonise new areas.
It has become a popular species for bonsai in Europe and is used for medium to large bonsai sizes and a multitude of styles.
Norway maples are not typically cultivated for maple syrup production due to the lower sugar content of the sap. The sugar content often approaches that of sugar maple and produces a good quality syrup. When it is plucked from the tree, Norway maple exudes a milky sap from the leaf stem, which distinguishes it from the very similar Sugar maple, Acer saccharum.
The Norway maple is threatened in a few areas by the Asian long-horned beetle, which eats through the trunks, often killing the trees.
Herbalists recommend the bark and leaves to strengthen the liver, the wood was popular in 13th century eccliastical carvings and is said, when used in doorways to prevent bats from entering.