Box Elder

Illustration of box elder leaves and fruits.
Scientific Name
Acer negundo
Aceraceae (maples)

Box elder is a medium-sized tree, 40–70 feet tall, with a broad, uneven crown.

Leaves opposite, pinnately compound with 3–5 leaflets arranged like a feather. Leaflets are 2–4 inches long, 1½–3 inches wide, broadest near the base, with margin coarsely toothed, sometimes with short lobes, upper surface light green, lower surface grayish green.

Bark smooth and green when young; when older, pale gray to brown and separating into long thin ridges with shallow grooves.

Twigs slender, smooth, shiny or with a whitish coating that rubs off easily, green to olive green, sometimes purple or brownish.

Flowers April–May, with male and female flowers on separate trees. Flowers small, greenish, drooping, on slender stalks, petals absent.

Fruits August–October, often remaining on the tree over winter; in drooping clusters 6–8 inches long. Fruits are winged, paired, 1–2 inches long, similar to maple seeds.

Other Common Names
Ashleaf Maple

Height: 40–70 feet.

Where To Find


Occurs in bottomlands, margins of swamps and streams, edges of woods, ravine bottoms, bases of bluffs, and disturbed sites. Also common around homes. A fast-growing tree that rarely lives beyond 80 years, it is susceptible to wind and storm damage and easily sheds limbs. Its leaves are also the favorite food of box elder bugs, whose swarms can be a nuisance around homes. For these reasons, box elder is not a choice plant for home landscaping.

A fast-growing, weak-wooded species that breaks easily in windstorms or under ice and snow. The box elder bugs it attracts can be a nuisance. Some trees are heavy seed producers. The wind-pollinated flowers can cause hay fever in spring. The wood is used for paper pulp, crates, and cheap furniture.

The seeds are an important winter food for many species of birds, plus squirrels, chipmunks, and other small mammals. Easily dispersed, fast-growing, short-lived trees play in important intermediate role in the succession of plants as disturbed ground gradually transforms into old-growth forest.

Media Gallery
Similar Species

Where to See Species

This access is located on the James River and marks the upstream end of the special black bass management area. A boat ramp and a large parking lot are provided. This area is open for day use only.
Cowskin Access was purchased in 1966 to provide access to the Elk River. The area is mainly forested with a small mowed grass field. There are no gravel bars located on the area.
This area was purchased in 1968 to provide access to Flat Creek. The area lends itself well to bank fishing and launching of canoes or kayaks.
This area was purchased in 1976 to provide access to Flat Creek. A parking lot and a gravel boat ramp are provided.
This area provides access to the James River. Two parking lots and a boat ramp are provided. This area is open for day use only. No camping is allowed.
About Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines in Missouri
There are no sharp dividing lines between trees, shrubs, and woody vines, or even between woody and nonwoody plants. “Wood” is a type of tissue made of cellulose and lignin that many plants develop as they mature — whether they are “woody” or not. Trees are woody plants over 13 feet tall with a single trunk. Shrubs are less than 13 feet tall, with multiple stems. Vines require support or else sprawl over the ground.