Rocky Mountain Maple
We are having a great time exploring our new property in Kalispell, Montana. Not only is it exciting to find footprints for animals we hadn’t seen before, but investigating the various types of trees is also fun. Among the Larch, Ponderosa Pine, Lodgepole Pine, White Birch and Quaking Aspens, we found something else. Dotted here and there in the forest are Rocky Mountain Maple trees.
Now why might this be interesting? A tree’s a tree’s a tree…. Well, nope. Rocky Mountain Maple trees are strange. They are totally unlike the huge magnificent single-trunked Maple trees of the East Coast that grow tall and strong and have beautiful red and orange leaves in the Fall.
As some background, no one has ever lived on our property although many decades ago, it was “parked out” so there was forestry work done at some point. But it has been decades since any of the trees were touched, cleaned, removed, or whatever. And the Rocky Mountain Maples are a mess.
The Maples here don’t get very tall, and tend to grow under or near other trees. Each Rocky Mountain Maple has multiple tree trunks that grow skyward. Old trees could have 10 or 20 different trunks. And when Spring comes, new shoots grow from still-healthy branches on existing trunks, or they just sprout from the ground up. So the old tree trunks eventually die, but typically stay in place on the tree until they finally crack and fall over. It’s hard to explain this, so I’ll try to do it with photos.
The first photo below a picture of a Maple tree near our driveway (prior to pruning). It just looks like a big pile of junk. You may or may not be able to tell, but there are a lot of bushes and young pine trees also growing around the tree. In addition, the old trunks of the tree are in varying condition; some are only a few years old and still strong with new shoots, some are old and have fallen over and some (the red ones) are brand new 2020 growth. I included a close up view of the inside section of the tree. A hodgepodge of old and new growth.
A few hours after the above photos were taken, I had accumulated a pile of dead branches (left) that I just snapped out of the ground from this one Maple tree. Interestingly enough, the dead parts of the tree make GREAT firewood. They ignite quickly. And what I found when I researched these trees is that Rocky Mountain Maples are fire dependent and when fires don’t occur, their growth may decline. Apparently, fires kill the tops of the maple trees but the root sprouts allow the tree to persist and even increase post-fire. Because Montana’s dry climate does make forest fires probable, I found that quite interesting.
The trees are also very valuable for other reasons. Game such as deer, elk and even moose eat the plant throughout the year. The Maples also provide cover for multiple types of birds and small mammals.
Below is a picture of the tree, post-pruning. I only left the branches that have new growth or are new trunks. You can see it’s growing right next to a Quaking Aspen. I have no idea what the Maple will look like once it has leaves on it, as I’ve never seen a fully blooming version. So I am looking forward to snapping another photo in a month or so.
So if you are ever in the Kalispell, Montana area and you see what looks like a big pile of broken and old branches in a big heap, keep looking. It just might be an old and in-need-of-some-TLC Rocky Mountain Maple tree.
For more Kalispell Montana information, click here! And as always, if you need help selling or buying a home in the Flathead Valley, you can contact me at 406-270-3667 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.