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Breeding a Hardy Red Maple Tree for North Dakota

Woody Plant Improvement project leader Todd West is looking for a Freeman maple that will thrive in North Dakota and the Northern Plains region of the U.S. He recently climbed a sliver maple on the main campus at North Dakota State University to collect pollen to pollinate red maples at the NDSU Absaraka Horticulture Research Farm, starting the process to create a hardy tree for the region.

May 31, 2018

Woody Plant Improvement project leader Todd West is looking for a Freeman maple that will thrive in the Northern Plains region of the U.S. Freeman maples such as Autumn Blaze® Freeman maple (Acer x freemanii ‘Jeffersred’) provide beautiful red leaf color in the fall and are extremely popular across the U.S.

However, Freeman maples (Acer rubrum x Acer saccharinum) do not thrive in North Dakota for two major reasons; hardiness and chlorosis. West says, “Red maples generally become chlorotic because they prefer a lower pH soil than what is found in North Dakota, and also, the parent plants for the popular Freeman maple crosses were selected from a more southern source of the native range, which results in inconsistent hardiness issues around the state.” 

West recently collected pollen from a silver maple (Acer saccharinum ‘Skinner’) on the main campus at North Dakota State University, which he used to pollinate red maples (Acer rubrum) that are showing outstanding tolerance to high pH soils (no chlorosis) at the NDSU Absaraka Horticulture Research Farm. The Skinner maple has an upright habit and is adapted to North Dakota conditions and when potentially added with the fall color of a red maple, it has potential to be an outstanding shade tree for landscapes and boulevards in North Dakota and the Northern Plains.

Author: Karen Hertsgaard (, 701-231-5384)
Editor: Todd West (todd.p.west@ndsu.edu, 701-231-6476)

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