Sapindaceae is a family of long standing that is mainly comprised of tropical and semi tropical trees. In the APG system used by Jepson (2012), this family now includes the former members of Aceraceae (Maple) and Hippocastinaceae (Buckeye, Horse Chestnut). In California, Sapindaceae is represented by the genera Acer (Maple) and Aesculus (Buckeye).


Dicot Plant Families

Plant Relationships

Native Genera:



Related Genera:



Related Families:



(Sumac, poison oak, smoke tree, pepper tree, etc.)
(Frankincense, myrrh)
(Neem, mahogany)
(Hoptree, citrus)


Growth Forms:

All members of Sapindaceae in California are trees. Acer circinatum could also be described as a large shrub.


All Sapindaceae in California are opposite branched, although members of this family can be alternate branched in other areas of the world.


Acer circinatum and Acer macrophyllum are palmate. Acer negundo is pinnately compound.
In the eastern US, buckeye, and especially maple leaves are known for their red, orange and gold colors in the fall. In California, however, these trees usually turn a modest yellow.


Maple flowers are often showy, in panicles or racemes. They are wind pollinated. Buckeye flowers are particularly attractive and fragrant. They may be poisonous to non-native bees and other pollinators, although native pollinators are not affected.


Maple seeds are in pairs, and each seed has a wing. The wings appear during flowering. Although the seed appears ready in July, it is not viable until fall. When the seeds dry and fall off, they flutter to earth and are carried a short distance by the wind.
Buckeye produces large, hard seeds that are covered with a fleshy coat. They ripen from late September through the end of October.

Growing Conditions

Natural Habitat:

Maples are known for growing in riparian zones but they also grow in openings in a forest canopy or on open hillsides if the soil conditons are favorable. Maples are a late successional genus. Both maples and buckeyes prefer to grow in the vicinity of creeks. They are not strictly riparian, but they do have that tendency.

Shade Tolerance:

Maples are shade tolerant. They often seed in the shade of other trees and emerge through openings in the canopy. They grow better, however, in the full sun. Buckeyes are intolerant of shade.

Soil and Moisture:

These trees prefer mesic soil that is well structured, mature and fertile.

Horticulture and Restoration

Horticultural Comments:

Maples can be used as specimen trees and have good structure if grown in the full sun. Bigleaf maple and vine maple are particularly useful as landscape subjects. Vine maple is often used as a large shrub or small tree.
Maples grown in dense shade have many thin branches that are prone to breakage.
Buckeyes are surprisingly useful in landscaping projects, and are often found as small street trees.

Wildlife Habitat:

The main value is for nesting habitat for birds, although the seeds are useful to wildlife as well.

Restoration Projects:

Members of Sapindaceae are widely used for riparian restoration projects, particularly in and near riparian zones.

California Native
Plant Guide

Jepson (2012) (APG System)



Jepson (1993) (Cronquist System)



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