The Norway maple: a love/hate relationship

IMG_1837The late, great Christopher Lloyd wrote in  The Adventurous Gardener “…by exercising a little vision you will realize that [your] tree has a future, perhaps even a great one…..it may be more important one day than yourself.” I’m grateful to say this won’t be true of the huge but now dead and gone Norway maple (Acer platanoides) that lasted about 60 years in our backyard. It spent its last 30 years—the time we lived with it—besetting me with its grasping, thirsty roots, which kept coming to the surface no matter how much compost I piled over the soil. Its falling keys sprouted into hundreds of baby Norways every spring, causing endless backaches as we pulled them out.

For all those years I had a love-hate relationship with that tree. I tried to grow many things under it, even shallow rooted shade-loving annuals, but only Batlic ivy and Euonymus colorata stood up to it. Not much survived beside it. This was partly due to its dense shade and shallow root system, but also to the toxins its leaves release that affect soil fungi and microbes and can prevent other plants, especially trees, from germinating. Norways are pariahs in Toronto, where I garden, especially in the city’s ravines and woodland areas.

On the other hand, our tree’s shade was welcomed on hot days, and it held up one end of our hammock. I admit it was a dramatic focal point in the garden, and we can take much of the credit for its good looks—every couple of years we had an arbourist prune out wayward branches and keep it limbed up. Visitors would walk into the garden and at first sight exclaim, “What a beautiful tree!” Continue reading