The many species of maple, which mostly belong to genus Acer, are among the most easily-identified of the great trees. Most lay persons recognize the shape of their leaves, although some other genuses have similar-shaped leaves as well, and it is really the fruit, or samaras, that distinguish the genus. There are over one hundred species with variable habits . The maple is Canada’s national tree and its leaf is the centrepiece of the country's flag. A well-known species is the sugar maple, Acer saccharum, which produces maple syrup.
Among the most popular ornamental species is Acer negundo, known as "box elder" the US and "Manitoba maple" elsewhere, prized for its compound leaves and variegated culivars. Acer palmatum (called the “Japanese Maple” although Acer japonica and Acer nipponicum exist as well), is probably the most popular specimen tree for house parks and home gardens, due in no small part to the delicate foliage and spectacular autumn colours of many. Selective breeding has produced hundreds of varieties. In the right climates (cool temperate) Japanese Maples are generally hardy and drought-resistant, although the leaves of some of the most beautiful varieties will burn in scorching sun.
Specially bred and decorative species are often used in landscaping, but Maples also serve many commercial uses. Maple timber is preferred by many craftsman and furniture makers for its strength and resistance to wear as well as its character and grain patterns. "Bird's eye", "quilted", and "fiddleback" figures are especially prized. Maple timber is classified into "hard maple" (wood from Sugar and Black maples) and "soft maple" from most other species. Hard maple is also used extensively for flooring, benchtops and cutting boards, while both soft and hard are used for furniture and in lutherie.
The production of maple syrup and maple candy, mainly made from the sap of sugar maples (Acer saccharum), also represents a significant industry, especially in eastern Canada and the northeastern part of the United States. In recent years, in the face of global warming, the syrup industry is being disrupted by increasingly smaller annual yields because of shorter harvesting seasons at the end of winter.
Maples are also popular subjects for bonsai.
- Habit is a horticultural term referring to the form of a tree, e.g. "a weeping habit".