Big Leaf Maple
You can’t have Fall in the PNW without the Big Leaf Maple! Oftentimes referred to as the Grand Dame of the forest, these trees can grow up to 100 feet tall with a span of 50 feet and have the largest leaves of any maple tree. Reaching up to a foot in width the name Acer Macrophyllum literally translates to “maple large leaf.” Big Leaf Maple bark is rich in calcium and moisture and therefore hosts a community of epiphytic plants. Underneath its massive canopy you’ll find lichens, mosses, and most likely Licorice Fern growing out from the trunk and limbs. This magnificent tree plays a role for almost every critter in the forest. The lime green flowers attract many pollinators in the spring, and in Fall the seeds attract small animals and birds. Elk and deer are known to browse the tree, and it can also provide excellent shade for salmon spawning streams.
Edible uses: Syrup season is much longer in the Pacific northwest due to much milder winters. Sap can be collected from fall to spring, however best sap flows generally happen in January to February. Big Leaf maple has the sweetest sap of all the native northwest maples. However because the sugar content is quite low, you’ll need to gather a lot more to produce the same amount of sweet syrup as the sugar maple. Big Leaf Maple flowers are also edible, and have been known to be made into fritter treats. These flowers also made a nice addition to any salad or soup.
Medicinal Uses: Historically, the Klallam (Lower Elwha Klallam and S'Klallam) would infuse the bark for sore throats.
Other uses: Big Leaf Maple wood is very instrumental in the NW, and can be used for wood-carving and many other things such as construction, cradleboards, bowls, and other household objects. It’s been called the paddle tree, since the wood is perfect for making canoe paddles.
*Do not overharvest. Leave ample fruit for reseeding and wildlife food. Respect that native plants are already in competition with both human development and invasive species. When you deplete an area of its native species you are inviting invasive species to establish themselves. This is one of the many reasons it is great to grow your own trees if you’re hoping to harvest significant amounts bark or lumber, it is best to grow the trees yourself. Please check your County's local laws for harvesting(even for bark, flowers, or leaves) before gathering.
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*Disclaimer: These plants have been used by people for food and medicine in different ways since time immemorial. Any ethnobotanical information presented here in respect to healthy living, recipes, nutrition, and diet and is intended for informational purposes only. The information provided is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment nor is it to be construed as such. We cannot guarantee that the information provided by the Pierce Conservation District reflects the most up-to-date medical research. Information is provided without any representations or warranties of any kind. Please consult a qualified physician for medical advice, and always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding your health and nutrition program.