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Bigtooth Maple: An Underutilized Colorado Native

Bryant Olsen

This native maple will withstand drought conditions and water restrictions. It tolerates our soils from the plains to the mountains. It can be used in groves or by itself. And  it has spectacular fall color. It should be used more in our western landscapes.

Bigtooth Maple is also known as Wasatch Maple. It takes that name from its native habitat in the Wasatch Mountains. This is a low mountain range stretching south from Wyoming into Colorado along the Utah border. Bigtooth Maple grows in thickets or groves in the moist canyons of the mountains.

Slow But Steady

This is a slow growing plant even when it gets more water than natural precipitation. But over time it grows into a twenty to thirty foot tall plant that will be fifteen to twenty feet wide. A group of Bigtooth Maple creates a great screen, if you’re patient. The grove acts as a backdrop to the garden in front of it. 

"...purchase your plant in the fall to get the color you want."

Wasatch Maple can also be used as a single specimen plant. The plant is usually grown as a multi-stemmed clump so purchase a plant that has a single stem. It can be pruned up into tree form and planted as an eye catcher by itself. 

Fall Colors

Bigtooth Maple has five-lobed dark green summer leaves. These leaves cover the plant from the base to the top. The leaves turn yellow, orange and red in the fall.  But the fall color is genetic, some plants are yellow and some plants are red.  If you’re looking for fall color purchase your plant in the fall to get the color you want.

A Unique Tree

It has been hard to find Bigtooth Maple available for sale. The seed germinates inconsistently. It’s slow growing. And it can suffer die back when transplanted.  For these reasons many growers have chosen not to grow it. 

But growers in the region have improved at propagation. Different growing techniques get a bigger plant faster. And plants grown in containers are transplanting well. So bigger and better Bigtooth Maple are on the market. 


Tom has been offering garden advice on KUNC for almost two decades. During that time he has been the wholesale sales manager at Ft. Collins Nursery, Inc. Since January of 2005 he has been the owner and operator of Throgmorton Plant Management, LLC., a landscape installation and maintenance company as well as a horticultural consulting firm. He lives in northern Ft. Collins with his wife and two kids.
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