Family: Sapindaceae (Aceraceae)

The box elder is actually a maple and belongs to the maple family. Box elder is a very common tree throughout the central United States, including Ohio.  It is often found in moist soils near a lake, pond, or stream.  But it can also be found in many other environments. Box elder is commonly planted as an ornamental, and it can be found often in residential yards.

Although the box is a maple, its leaves look very different from most maples.  Each leaf is actually an opposite compound leaf with 3-5 leaflets, and the leaves may superficially resemble poison ivy.  But box elder is a tree or shrub with opposite leaves, and poison ivy is usually a vine and has alternate leaves.  The younger stems of box elder tend to be green, which is an important recognition characteristic.

Box elders are small to medium-sized trees and may reach 50-75 feet tall and about 4 feet in diameter. The box elder provides important habitat for many wildlife species. Many birds and squirrels eat the seeds.  

The wood is not particularly useful.  But Native Americans used the sap to make a type of maple syrup. Below are some links to pictures of what box elders look like as well as a typical sugar maple and poison ivy to help identify the difference.


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