Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Acer circinatum
SPECIES: Acer circinatum
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Uchytil, Ronald J. 1989. Acer circinatum. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
SCS PLANT CODE :
COMMON NAMES :
The currently accepted scientific name of vine maple is Acer circinatum
Pursh. [30,33,48,65]. There are no recognized subspecies, varieties, or
LIFE FORM :
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Acer circinatum
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
Vine maple occurs in the Pacific Northwest. It ranges from the
Cascade Mountains to the coast and from southwestern British Columbia to
northern California . In Washington and California, vine maple may
extend down the east side of the Cascade Mountains along canyon bottoms
and moist slopes but is confined almost entirely to the west side of
the Cascades in Oregon .
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES23 Fir - spruce
FRES24 Hemlock - Sitka spruce
FRES28 Western hardwoods
CA OR WA BC
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
1 Northern Pacific Border
2 Cascade Mountains
4 Sierra Mountains
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
K001 Spruce - cedar - hemlock forest
K002 Cedar - hemlock - Douglas-fir forest
K003 Silver fir - Douglas-fir forest
K004 Fir - hemlock forest
K005 Mixed conifer forest
K006 Redwood forest
K007 Red fir forest
K025 Alder - ash forest
K026 Oregon oakwoods
K028 Mosaic of K002 and K026
K029 California mixed evergreen forest
SAF COVER TYPES :
211 White fir
221 Red alder
222 Black cottonwood - willow
223 Sitka spruce
224 Western hemlock
225 Western hemlock - Sitka spruce
226 Coastal true fir - western hemlock
227 Western redcedar - western hemlock
228 Western redcedar
229 Pacific Douglas-fir
230 Douglas-fir - western hemlock
231 Port Orford-cedar
233 Oregon white oak
234 Douglas-fir - tanoak - Pacific madrone
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
Vine maple is typically an understory shrub found in both seral and
climax Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), western hemlock (Tsuga
heterophylla), western redcedar (Thuja plicata), Port Orford-cedar
(Chamaecyparis lawsoniana), Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), and Pacific
silver fir (Abies amabilis) forests on the west side of the Cascades
[15,18]. On the east side of the Cascades, vine maple occurs on moist
bottoms in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests . The western
hemlock/vine maple/western swordfern (Polystichum munitum) plant
association is common throughout the Olympic, Cascade, and Coast Ranges
of Oregon and Washington . Vine maple sometimes dominates or
codominates talus slopes with Sitka alder (Alnus viridis ssp. sinuata)
Published classification schemes listing vine maple as a dominant part
of the vegetation in community types (cts), habitat types (hts), or
plant associations (pas) are presented below:
Area Classification Authority
s OR: Cascade Mtns forest pas Atzet & McCrimmon 1990
w OR: w Cascades forest cts Dyrness & others 1974
OR: Monument Peak general veg. cts Aller 1956
w OR: Mt. Hood NF western hemlock pas Halverson & others 1986
w OR: Mt. Hood & Pacific silver fir pas Hemstrom & others 1982
w OR: Siuslaw NF general veg. pas Hemstrom & Logan 1986
s OR: Abott Creek general veg. cts Mitchell and Moir 1976
Research Natural Area
w OR: H.J. Andrews general veg. cts,hts,pas Hawk 1979
nw OR: Tillamook postfire veg. cts Bailey & Poulton 1968
OR, WA general veg. cts Franklin and Dyrness 1973
WA: Willamette NF general veg. pas Hemstrom & others 1987
SPECIES: Acer circinatum
WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE :
Vine maple wood has no commercial value but is used locally for tool
handles and firewood .
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE :
During the summer, vine maple's abundant foliage is a preferred food of
black-tailed deer and elk. Since it grows at low elevations, it is
usually abundant on elk winter ranges and ranks high as an elk winter
In western Oregon, seral vine maple/western swordfern communities which
develop after wildfire supply a high quantity of forage for black-tailed
deer . Black-tailed deer show a high preference for this community
during all seasons. Seral brush communities with an abundance of vine
maple often contain high populations of mountain beaver [1,6].
The seeds, buds, and flowers of maples (Acer spp.) provide food for
numerous birds and small mammals. Squirrels and chipmunks eat the
seeds, frequently storing them in caches after removing the hull and
wing. Numerous birds use the leaves and seed stalks of maples for nest
Vine maple is eaten by both cattle and sheep. Sheep utilization of
available vine maple herbage averaged 79 and 84 percent over two
consecutive summers on cut-over Douglas-fir lands in Washington .
Sheep allowed to graze during the summer on Douglas-fir plantations in
western Oregon also showed a preference for vine maple .
Vine maple is moderately to highly palatable to cattle and sheep .
Sheep grazing cut-over lands in western Oregon and Washington show a
preference for this maple [32,39].
Vine maple leaves and twigs are highly palatable to black-tailed deer
and elk in the summer. After leaf fall in autumn, black-tailed deer
seldom consume vine maple twigs, but elk will browse the twigs
throughout the winter [6,8,29,55].
The relish and degree of use shown by livestock and wildlife species for
vine maple in the following western states is rated as follows
CA OR WA
Cattle fair-poor ---- ----
Sheep fair-poor good good
Horses poor ---- ----
Elk ---- good good
Black-tailed deer fair good(summer) good(summer)
NUTRITIONAL VALUE :
Analysis of western Oregon and Washington vine maple browse indicates
that this plant provides little nutrition during the winter. Twigs
analyzed during the winter were low in protein (4.4 to 5.8%), high in
fat, and very high in crude fiber (43-50% of dry weight) [8,16,28]. The
high fiber content greatly reduces digestibility, which is probably why
black-tailed deer will consume this maple during the winter only when
more nutritious forage is unavailable. In the summer, crude protein
averages 9 to 13 percent, and crude fiber 15 to 20 percent by dry
weight. At this time vine maple is a key browse species for
black-tailed deer and elk.
Results from the chemical analysis of vine maple plants collected in
western Oregon is summarized below (collection dates unknown) :
Nutrient Content (% by weight)
N P Mg Ca Na K
Stems .18 .08 .05 .51 .003 .18
Foliage 2.28 .39 .33 .78 .008 .52
In comparison with other understory shrubs sampled in this study, vine
maple generally had higher concentrations of all nutrients.
COVER VALUE :
Clearcutting of mature forests generally creates favorable habitat for
deer and elk. Vine maple, along with other shrubs which make up seral
brushfields following logging, affords deer and elk good cover.
The Pacific silver fir/vine maple/coolwort foamflower (Tiarella
trifoliata) and the western hemlock/vine maple/western swordfern plant
associations provide good summer range for deer and elk. The dense
shrub layer provides good hiding cover [25,26].
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES :
There is little information of the use of vine maple for rehabilitation.
Other maples have been used for wildlife habitat improvements and native
landscaping . When considering vine maple for these purposes,
transplanting nursery grown seedlings will probably show the best
results. Guides for producing nursery grown maple (Acer spp.) seedlings
for transplanting are available [17,25].
OTHER USES AND VALUES :
Vine maple is an ornamental shrub used in landscaping. Native Americans
called this maple "basket tree" because they weaved baskets with the
long straight stems . Native Americans also carved the wood into
numerous household utensils such as spoons, bowls, and platters, and
used the branches for scoop nets to take salmon .
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Following logging, vine maple along with other shrubs often form dense
brushfields that can severely interfere with the establishment of
conifer seedlings [9,10,16]. To aid in conifer seedling establishment,
chemical or mechanical shrub reduction or removal may be needed. Many
mechanical and manual shrub reduction methods include pulling, scalping,
cutting, and mechanical clearing [20,31]. Cutting may prove ineffective
at reducing vine maple, as sprouts normally regrow rapidly from
established root systems. Scarifying sites with bulldozers or other
machines after logging has proven effective. Up to 75 percent mortality
of vine maple has occurred under this treatment . Chemical sprays
have been widely used for controlling shrub growth in the Pacific
Northwest. Since sprays are more effective on resprouting plants than
on mature plants, maximum control can be achieved on plants resprouting
after logging or burning . Glyphosate, picloram, triclopyr, and
imazapyr appear to be effective at killing this maple; however, it is
resistant to 2,4-D even at the highest rates . Many guides detailing
the proper rates and application of chemicals for controlling vine maple
are available [6,26,31].
Sheep grazing of young conifer plantations is an effective method of
controlling undesirable shrub species. Browsing clearcuts during the
summer when vine maple and other target brush species are most palatable
to sheep, but when conifer seedling palatability to sheep is at a
seasonal low, can significantly reduce vine maple standing crop .
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Acer circinatum
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
Vine maple is a long-lived, shade-tolerant, deciduous shrub or small
tree which shows a high degree of variation in growth form. Stems may
be erect or vertical, leaning, arched or convex with branch tips
anchored by roots, or prostrate with the end of the stem turned upwards
. When found in the open this maple often grows as a dense shrub or
small tree with numerous erect stems. Under favorable conditions plants
in these open habitats occasionally grow up to 30 feet (9.1 m) tall with
8- to 12-inch diameter (20-30 cm) trunks [31,51,61]. Plants shaded by a
coniferous overstory, however, commonly have prostrate stems that root
where a stem touches the ground. A study conducted on the west slope of
the Cascades in central Oregon found that vine maple growing in 7- to
22-year-old clearcuts averaged 34 76-inch (195 cm) erect stems per plant
. Nearby plants growing under mature conifers were much less erect
and averaged only three stems per plant, which were only 60 percent
longer than stems of plants in clearcuts.
The bark of vine maple is thin, smooth, and bright reddish brown .
The leaves are round to cordate, palmately seven- to nine-lobed,
serrate, and 1.2 to 2.4 inches (3-6 cm) long . The fruit is a
rose-colored double samara. The 0.5- to 1-inch-long (1.2-2.5 cm) wings
are widely divergent in a nearly straight line.
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :
REGENERATION PROCESSES :
Vine maple is a very poor seed producer and relies primarily on
vegetative means of reproduction .
Vegetative regeneration: Plants sprout from the root crown following
top-kill from logging or burning. Vine maple distribution in early
seral communities is therefore primarily dependent upon its
predistubance distribution . In early seral stands, layering occurs
infrequently, but as plants mature some stems become too long and
massive to remain erect and thus lay prostrate and root where the stem
touches the ground . Therefore layering probably increases with
stand age. Studies in western Oregon indicate that vine maple
reproduces almost exclusively by layering when under stands of old
growth conifers [2,51]. In these studies, new plants originating from
seed were extremely rare or absent from both clearcuts and mature
stands. Sprouts may also arise from shallow lateral roots that have
become exposed to light .
Seed production and dispersal: Vine maple begins to produce seed at an
early age, probably before age 10 . The flowers appear in the
spring when the leaves are about half grown . Flowers occur in
loose drooping clusters that hang from the end of the branchlets. Male
and female organs occur in the same flower; however, in each flower only
male or female organs are functional. Thus only a few flowers from each
cluster develop into fruit . The fruit consists of two fused
samaras which eventually separate on shedding. Each samara contains a
single seed without endosperm. Small quantities of seed are produced
annually. The winged seeds are dispersed in the fall by wind; however,
dissemination of samaras in mature stands is probably restricted, since
strong winds normally do not prevail in coniferous understories .
Seeds average approximately 5,000 per pound (11,000/kg) [49,62].
Seed viability and germination: Vine maple seeds have a dormant embryo
which requires approximately 6 months of chilling to germinate .
Under natural conditions the seeds are dispersed in the fall and
germinate in the spring. Studies have shown that vine maple seedlings
are rare or absent from both clearcuts and mature stands [2,51]. This
lack of seedlings may possibly be attributed to: (1) the consumption of
a high proportion of samaras by squirrels, chipmunks, and insects, (2) a
thick moss layer or dense growth of other shrubs which often prevents
seeds from reaching mineral soil, and (3) poor germination .
SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
Vine maple is typically found as an understory shrub or small tree that
grows in moist forests composed of Douglas-fir, western hemlock,
western redcedar, Sitka spruce, Port Orford-cedar, or Pacific silver fir
[1,3,4,18,24,67]. It is also common along streambanks and alluvial
terraces, in forest openings and clearcuts, and on talus slopes and the
lower portions of open slopes [18,22,31,52].
Soils: Vine maple is an indicator of well-drained, moist soils. Soils
are deep, often exceeding 40 inches (100 cm). Textures vary from clay
loams to sandy or rocky [15,25,26].
Overstory relationship: Although this maple grows under dense shade and
has been classified by some authors as shade tolerant [3,37,61], many
researchers have found that both cover and frequency of vine maple are
much lower under dense conifer overstories than under more open
overstories [5,24,51]. Vine maple is more abundant under Douglas-fir
than under western hemlock or western redcedar [2,61]. This may be
attributed to the greater amount of light which typically penetrates
through Douglas-fir canopies compared to hemlock  or possibly to
alleleopathic chemicals produced by western hemlock which inhibit the
growth of vine maple .
Associated species: Associated shrubs include red elderberry (Sambucus
racemosa), Sitka alder, oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor), California
hazel (Corylus cornuta), Oregon-grape (Berberis nervosa), salal
(Gaultheria shallon), Pacific rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum),
trailing blackberry (Rubus ursinus), twinflower (Linnaea borealis),
Alaska huckleberry (Vaccinium alaskaense), blue huckleberry (V.
membranaceum), and baldhip rose (Rosa gymnocarpa). Associated herbs
include western swordfern, coolwort foamflower, beargrass (Xerophyllum
tenax), waterleaf (Hydrophyllum spp.), baneberry (Actaea rubra), and
common whipplea (Whipplea modesta) [1,2,4,15,24,25].
Elevation: Vine maple is a low elevation species found mostly below
3,000 feet (914 m) in Washington and northwestern Oregon, and below
5,500 feet (1,676 m) in southwestern Oregon and California [3,67].
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
Vine maple is found in both seral and climax stages of forest
succession, but cover and frequency are highest in early seral stages.
Since this maple is a root-sprouter, its distribution following
clearcutting or fire closely resembles its distribution in climax
forests [5,6]. Cover of vine maple through different seral stages
fluctuates with changes in the overstory. Cover seems to be inversely
proportional to overstory density. A western Oregon study found that
cover of vine maple under dense old-growth Douglas-fir was about 5
percent, but about 24 percent in light spots .
In western redcedar-western hemlock-Douglas-fir forests, vine maple
cover may be initially reduced following logging [13,14,54] but then
gradually increases for the next 25 to 30 years. At this time vine
maple cover decreases, due to shading from a young conifer overstory,
but vine maple cover will again increase as succession proceeds if
conifer mortality creates light spots in the understory [5,30,51,54].
Successional studies of coniferous forests in the Pacific Northwest show
that following fire or logging, herbaceous cover usually dominates for
the first few years . Within 4 or 5 years dense shrub communities
normally develop. These are often composed of residual shrubs, such as
vine maple, trailing blackberry, salal, Pacific rhodendron, and
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT :
Flowering normally occurs from April through June, when the leaves are
about half grown [25,49,52]. The fruits generally ripen in September or
October, after which seed is dispersed through November . Before
the leaves are shed in autumn, they turn various shades of yellow or
red. Observation of leaf fall in two western Oregon watersheds showed
that vine maple leaves began falling in early September and peaked the
third week in October . On one watershed, 94 percent of leaves fell
within 3 weeks after the first frost .
SPECIES: Acer circinatum
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS :
Vine maple is well adapted to fire. Following aerial crown kill or
destruction by fire, root crowns often produce numerous sprouts
[6,51,63]. This long-lived, seral species often persists in the
understory of late seral or climax coniferous stands. Its sprouting
ability allows it to become part of the immediate postfire community
when the conifer overstory is removed or killed [6,51].
FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :
survivor species; on-site surviving root crown or caudex
SPECIES: Acer circinatum
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT :
Most fires top-kill vine maple; however, plants normally resprout from
the root crown [6,21,51,63]. Successional trends in the western
Cascades of Oregon show that vine maple cover and frequency are
dramatically reduced following fire [14,21]. The amount of this initial
reduction may be related to fire severity. A study of broadcast-burned
clearcuts in western Oregon found that vine maple was abundant on
lightly burned plots (surface litter charred but not completey removed)
but very scarce on heavily burned plots (surface litter completely
consumed by intense fire) [14,20]. Similarly, observation of fire
effects on Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum) plants in Montana show
that hot fires (those which effectively transfer heat below the mineral
soil surface) damage root crowns and thus prevent sprouting of some
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT :
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE :
Vine maple produces numerous root crown sprouts the first growing season
following burning [45,51,63]. Frequency and cover of vine maple drop
dramatically following fire. Preburn levels may be reached as quickly
as 2 to 5 years after fire [14,36] but may take up to 25 years [21,51].
Following wildfire or logging, vine maple/sword fern is a common seral
community during the tall shrub stage of succession [6,18].
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE :
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
SPECIES: Acer circinatum
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