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Box Elder

Box Elder
Acer negundo L.
(Order Sapindales; Family Aceraceae)

Leaves of Box Elder (Image on left by Kiersten Dixon, June 2011; image on right Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses:

Diagnosis:  Box Elder is a tree
Trunks: When the plant is in an open area the trunk is short with low branches but in a crowded area they are taller and straighter. They may appear to be shrub like in the western area of Kansas. They are 1 to 2 feet in diameter and are often divided low into branches. The branches are stout and crooked. The bark is gray and pale- brown and appears smooth on younger trees.
Leaves: The leaves are opposite and pinnately-compound. They range from 8 to 12 inches long and there 3 to 7 leaflets that are egg-shaped to rhombic. The leaflets are 1.6 to 2.8 inches wide and are yellowish- green and glabrous. They look similar to poison ivy in shape.
Flowers: The flowers are dioecious (male and female flowers on separate trees).They droop in clusters and the stalks are thread- like. They are 1 to 2 inches long and are greenish and pubescent. The calyx is bell-shaped and the anthers are large and red.
Fruits: The fruits are called samaras are in pairs shaped like a “V”. They are less than 90 degrees apart. Each individual samara is brown, slender, flat, and winged. They are about 1 to 2 inches long and about .4 inches wide.

Samaras of Box Elder (Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses:

Video: Samaras in October.

Flowering Period: This tree flowers in April and fruits in the early summer. Samaras will persist on the tree until late autumn or winter.

Distribution: Across the United States and Canada. From the USDA Plants Database


Distribution Kansas: Widely distributed throughout Kansas. From the USDA Plants Database


Native Status: Box Elder is native to both the United States and Kansas.

Habitat: These trees grow in moist soils along stream banks, flood plains, shaded ditches, bottomland woods, ravine bottoms in upland woods, and planted around farm yards.

Uses: The Native Americans boiled the sap to make sugar and steeped the inner bark, then used the liquid to induce vomiting. They would burn the wood as ceremonial incense. Some used the charcoal for ceremonial painting and tattooing. The wood was used to make bowls, trunk knots were used to make drums, and twigs were made into prayer sticks.

Conservation status: Secure, not extinct or not endangered.


Etymology: The specific epithet is derived from a Sanskrit name for trees having leaves similar to those of the box elder.

YouTube. Samaras in October:

Athenic Systems. Tree Guide, Inc. (5 Dec. 2002).

Kansas Wildflowers & Grasses:

Weberling, Focko, & Pankhurst, R.J. (1992). Morphology of flowers and inflorescence. Great Britain: University Press, Cambridge.

Image Credits:
Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses:

Picture by Kiersten Dixon, June 2011

United States and Kansas Distribution Map from the USDA Plants Database


Submitted by: Kiersten Dixon, July 2011.


Wichita State University
Generated on 2011. This website is continuously updated.
Comments can be sent to Mary Liz Jameson.
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