I was reading about maple trees this afternoon, and I was delighted to find out that the genus name is "Acer", named after the Latin adjective meaning "sharp", because maple wood was firm, sharp, and desirable. I believe it was used by Romans to make both spears and writing tablets.

Do we know the exact species of maple trees that existed in Ancient Rome? Here in the States I often see the sugar maple ("Acer saccharum") and the Japanese maple ("Acer palmatum") but this is not what the Romans saw when they looked at maples.1 What maples did they see?

Furthermore, how would an Ancient Roman refer to these maple trees? Would he or she call them acer (singular) and acera (plural)? Or would the plural be acres, after the adjective? Did they have different words to distinguish between different species of maple, or just the one?

1 The sugar maple is native to the Americas; the Japanese maple to Japan and eastern Europe.


The noun acer, aceris n. (with short a) “maple tree” is not the same word as the adjective ācer, ācris, ācre (with long ā) “sharp”, though it is possible that they share the same Indo-Euopean origin. The former is cognate with German Ahorn.

  • Ah, thanks for pointing that out. It escaped my attention. One question about your answer, though. Was acer, aceris n. (with short a) the only well-known word in the Latin lexicon for describing maple trees? It would be interesting but unsurprising if they had one name whereas we have many.
    – ktm5124
    Nov 10 '17 at 20:36

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