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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Tree Tuesday: The Amur Maple

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Editor’s note: We’re pleased to introduce a new weekly column by the writer and tree enthusiast Bronwyn Chester. Each Tuesday, Bronwyn will guide Spacing Montreal readers around the trees of Montreal; if you’re keen to know more, she also offers regular tree tours of Montreal’s parks and neighbourhoods. We’ll post details before each tour.

Welcome to the first week of Tree Tuesday, an offshoot of Spacing Toronto’s column of the same name. Like Todd Irvine of Toronto Tree Tours, I’m convinced that knowing more about our silent, woody neighbours makes life in the city just that much more interesting. So, for the past three years, I have been giving tours of Montreal’s trees. I started with the trees of McGill University, simply because the downtown campus is home to at least 70 species of trees concentrated in a central and accessible area. I then moved on to creating tours of neighbourhood trees. My feeling is that it’s best to get to know the trees closest to home. You then move outward to meet more varieties farther afield, in local parks and alleys. Finally, you arrive at the closest remnant of the forest that once covered our fair isle, patches like Mount Royal Park, the Pointe aux Prairies Nature Park or the Morgan Arboretum, where descendants of the ancestral forest still roam.

From week to week, I will introduce you to the trees of Montreal, the rare, the strange and the common. Feel free to make suggestions for Tree Tuesday.

Redolent in Red: the Keys of the Amur maple (Acer ginnala, Érable d’Amur)

The fruit of the Amur maple, known as the samara, key or helicopter, is the reddest of any maple and an unexpected pleasure at this time of year when trees are showing little colour. Look closely at the unusual leaves and keys of this species that was imported from the Amur River valley in the 19th century both as an ornamental tree and as hedgerow material for Western Canada to stave off soil erosion caused by the wind.

Far from its origins on the Sino-Russian border, this small, drought-resistant tree has long been naturalized in its new country and readily seeds itself in many a sidewalk crack. It is also planted by the City of Montreal in city parks where, with its multiple trunks, it makes a good tree for climbing. You can recognize a mature tree from afar by its (usually) numerous small dark grey trunks and the overall rounded green shape that is decorated with pale orange to bright crimson samaras.

In this photograph, you will notice how the two halves of the samara are almost parallel to each other. You will also notice that the leaf, with its three points and overall triangular shape, is not of the typical maple shape. This young tree grows alongside the west fence of the abandoned Canadian Pacific railway yard found at Henri-Julien Street and the south side of the railway track. Like all plant species in this urban meadow, the Amur maple is a pioneer species, one that seeded itself in this tough territory. The Amur maple along with fellow pioneers, such as the Manitoba and silver maples, the cottonwood poplar and Siberian elm, don’t live long; their purpose is to colonize vacant territory, reproduce like crazy and provide food for birds and small mammals (one helps the other), and gradually enrich the soil for longer-living trees, such as the red ash.



  1. I’d really like to know if any Elm trees still exist in Montreal, I have heard rumours… that some have survived the dutch elm disease that wiped out 99.99% of the north american elm trees. I’e been told that Sherbrooke street used to be lined with Elm trees.

  2. Sid: “Elm” street in Westmount was named for the impressive elms that used to grow there. Sherbrooke is a long street and there were surely sections with elms as well.

  3. Glad to see you are a new Spacing contributor. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  4. Beautiful tree. I look forward to more.

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