Plant Lore: Maples (Acer sp.)

One of the most common and popular trees in the northern hemisphere, the maple is famous for many things — spectacular fall color, the Canadian flag, the delicious syrup on your waffles and pancakes. But long before its nectar graced our breakfast tables, the maple was famous for one of its less edible qualities.

Maples often have some of the brightest and most vivid fall foliage in reds, oranges and yellows. Image by mirceax courtesy iStock.

A deeper dive into Acer, the latin name for the maple tree genus, reveals that the word means "sharp." It's a reference to the quality of the wood. Maple, a hardwood, was a popular choice for spear makers as far back as the Neanderthals due to its strength and ability to make rigid, deadly points.

Ancient wooden spears. Image courtesy W.H. Schoch et al/Journal of Human Evolution 2015, C.S. Fuchs.

On your next walk around the park or leaf-foraging adventure, don't forget the maple's storied history as our ancestors weapon of choice.