‘Highly invasive’ tree putting our iconic sugar maple at risk

Highly invasive tree that endangers our legendary sugar maple
Autumn is one of the most beautiful seasons. It's when nature paints landscapes in gorgeous colors of oranges, yellows, and reds, and perhaps the star of the show is the iconic sugar maple.
"The sugar maple is considered the most beautiful tree in the world by many people around the world because of its colors," said Eric Davies of the University of Toronto's Forestry School.
According to Davies, the sugar maple is ecologically dominant in eastern North America and plays a huge role in creating a habitat for biodiversity of all species.
"Maple syrup - this is what indigenous peoples taught European settlers and has become an important part of life, and wood is also very much revered," explains Davies. "You can make chopping boards because it doesn't contain toxins, make nice furniture, [and] it's really good for burning in your fireplace. It is good for almost everything a wood is supposed to be good for. "
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But this native tree is among the many threatened by invasive species such as the European Norway maple. They may look similar when it comes to their foliage, but one is harmful to the ecosystems it invades.
Davies says when you think of ecosystems you think of a trophic food web: a pyramid.
“In the base layer, you have plants, then you have the insects that eat those plants, and then you have the birds that eat the insects. If you remove the base layer, the plant layer, and replace it with invasive species, the insects will not be able to eat. There are no insects, there is nothing for the birds to eat, and the entire ecosystem is collapsing. "
Source: Marta Czurylowicz. Eric Davies holds leaves from a sugar maple and a European norway maple in Toronto's High Park.
Eric Davies holds leaves from a sugar maple tree (left) and a "damaged" European maple tree (right) in Toronto's High Park. Source: Marta Czurylowicz.
“Invasive species have a number of different characteristics: small seed size, very aggressive toxic plants that can outperform native plants. For example, Norway maples produce seeds and thousands of them every year, but the native sugar maple only produces grain every two to three, four, five years, ”explains Davies.
Take one of Toronto's jewels, for example: High Park. Dozens of people come there all year round to enjoy nature. Be it for the sakura cherry blossoms in spring or the beautiful colors in autumn. But what appears as a blooming green space is actually an example of a collapsing ecosystem.
“What we are going to notice here is that this western boundary of the High Park is surrounded - they planted Norwegian maples in the park and they have now gone wild in the natural areas of the High Park, and that is very problematic because as you will see , not only are they not beautiful in color, they also take over all of the vegetation and offer no habitat for diversity, ”says Davies.
The Norway maple is allelopathic. Its roots emit a toxic substance that kills things that grow underneath so the tree can keep growing. It also emerges very early and stays very late, so often the grass underneath does not grow.
“The reality is, if you take an aerial view of Ontario and look at all of the nurseries, Norway maple is still a very common tree because it is very tough and very cheap to grow. You know from afar that it's beautiful, but people didn't appreciate how invasive it was, ”he said. “In the beginning we wanted a pest-free environment without insects for a long time. Now we find that among these insects there are pollinators and butterflies and all these beautiful things, so the Norway maple is actually a poisonous tree that grows very quickly and has no biodiversity, which wasn't such a big problem that we didn't have Think 50 years ago, but now we want to have pollinators and birds in our communities that we are trying to get back to the native trees. "
Tar spots: Norway maple. Source: Marta Czurylowicz
Tar spots: Norway maple. Source: Marta Czurylowicz
Tar spots are black raised spots on the leaves of norway maples caused by a fungus. They arise on leaves in late summer and early autumn and cause the leaves to turn brown and shrivel.
“You couldn't find that in Toronto 20 to 30 years ago, and now it's on every tree. So I'm increasingly concerned because it is so genetically similar to our native sugar maple that it would be devastating if this disease skipped over and this happened on our sugar maple, ”says Davies.
He wants Canadians to educate themselves to restore native species.
“Learn your plants because then you can help get rid of the invasive ones, and then you can help collect seeds from the indigenous people. We need to get rid of the invasive on the one hand and plant more natives on the other and hopefully get something back. "
(Editor's note: In an earlier version of this article, the Norway maple was found to be "lilyopathic." This should read "allelopathic," meaning that it inhibits the growth of other plants around it. This has been corrected. We apologize for all confusion.)

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