Friday, August 21, 2015

Portraits of a Box Elder

box elder (Acer negundo): A tree. “box” because its wood was used to make boxes; “elder” because the leaves suggest those of elderberry.
Another name for box elder is ash leaf maple, appropriately.  It's a maple (genus Acer) but the leaves look more like ash leaves—compound with leaflets.  Most maple leaves are simple.

Box elder is fast-growing, soft-wooded, short-lived.  “It typically occurs in moist to wet soils along streams, river flood plains and in low woods” (source).  In general, it thrives in open sites on bare soil.  So it’s a capable urban pioneer—a street plant.

One of my neighbors is a boxelder.  It grows just across the street, on the west side of the warehouse in a corrugated metal corner below the sky, with other tough urban types: Canada thistle, curlycup gumweed and trash.

Box elder with pink thistle, yellow gumweed and cheap throw-away stringer pallets.

Barn swallows roost close by in the evening.

Swallows all in a row, above door.

Wildfires are burning 500 miles to the west, so the sky was smoky, with an eerie red sun.

Sun sets behind abandoned cabin and discarded pallets.

This post is my contribution to the August gathering of street plant fans, kindly hosted by Lucy  of Loose and Leafy.


  1. What a splendid one you have chosen!
    It always amazes me when I see an Acer that hasn't got maple-shaped leaves. This plant certainly does look a lot like elder.
    The setting is amazing, too - swallows? And that gumweed sent me looking on Wikipedia. I see it's "Grindelia squarrosa" but I can't see anywhere why it's called gumweed, unless it was used to soothe teething?
    All the best :)

    1. Thanks, sb, for visiting and for the comment. "gum" must mean gummy-- the head are sticky and resinous. I guess the sap is gummy too, but I haven't checked. I like gumweed--such happy bright yellows this time of year. But I pull it up in my yard-- prolific seed producer and will take over open soil.

  2. Sorry to be so late to read this. Have hardly been at home for what is beginning to seem like months! Great post. Great pictures. Even capturing beauty in pallets!