I could hardly believe it the first time I saw it: the leaves of the big-leaf maple. Even though we lived in Northern California for seven years and could have seen specimens of the tree, I did not recognize it. So the first time I really saw a big-leaf maple was when I slowed down enough after arriving at Bluebell Springs to pick out the trees from the forest.
I was incredulous: “Jim, that leaf looks just like a maple leaf, but it’s way too big! What kind of tree is it?” His grin at being able to get one up on his self-proclaimed amateur naturalist brother was wide: “It’s a maple—a big-leaf maple!” “No way!” “Yes way”—and more grin.
I mean I could imagine a maple with leaves maybe two or three times the size of a typical Michigan maple—having seen the tiny leaves of some Japanese maples. But a leaf so large that you could lay five or six sugar maple leaves on it was an amazement to me. The photo here shows three different maple leaves I brought from around our home in Michigan laid out above a big-leaf from a maple that stands like a sentry at the side of the Bluebell Springs drive—along with a couple nice Douglas firs, and some cedars. The leaves above the big leaf are, from left to right, the red maple, sugar maple, and Norway maple.
Though not as tall as the chief timber trees here in the Pacific Northwest, the big-leaf maple holds its own in grandeur and grace—putting on a show from spring through fall. It often stands hidden among conifers until autumn, when the leaves turn to gold, then bronze, then gone. In the Olympics the big-leaf maple is often host to huge amounts of tree moss, making them look like the bearded granddaddies of the forest.
They, like their eastern peers, provide sweet sap that can also be made into syrup—an activity that is growing because of the trend toward organic and local food products. Their wood, too, is turned into typical maple products and is the chief hardwood in the Pacific Northwest.
When you get a chance, take a look at the Wikipedia website on maples. There are 125 species of them!