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Acer negundo

Acer negundo of the family Aceraceae. Note: this wood is a maple species and is related to the elder tree (Sambucus spp. of the family Caprifoliaceae) only in that they are both wood. It is called "box elder" because of the similarity of the white sapwood to boxwood (thus the "box") and the similarity of the tree's leaves to those of the elder tree (thus the "elder"). A really excellent example (as though one were needed) of the way that common names are often derived in ways that make them totally misleading. When I first started this web site, I thought that box elder WAS a variety of elder.

"Flame" (or "flamed", or sometimes "candy", or sometimes "red") box elder refers to the wood after it has been affected by a process that has been the subject of both some scholarly investigation and some debate. The end result of the process, whatever the true cause, is that the wood turns red, sometimes VERY red, in areas that can be quite extensive throughout the tree, as is illustrated by many of the images on this page.

The process is described variously as one or the other or both of two separate possible causes. The first cause is a fungus, brought into the tree by a bug attack. The second cause is any form of stress, such as a bug attack, wire wrapped around a tree, something (a fence post or another tree) pushing up against the tree, or long-term bending stress caused by wind or heavy snow. I've also seen a discussion on a wood forum stating that sometimes poor soil conditions and long-term pooling of water around the base of a tree can cause stress in the bottom of the tree that results in wide-spread red in the base of the tree.

There is a long scholarly paper that contends, and appears to back up with experimental evidence, that stress definitely causes the red coloration to appear without any trace of the fungus. On the other hand, while the paper contends that stress is the ONLY cause of the red, and that the fungus is irrelevant, the experimental evidence cited in the paper is totally unconvincing because the paper's authors failed entirely to produce the kind of extensive deep red stain that can sometimes be found in nature. Also, my own experience is that the bug tracks are always accompanied by red (but I HAVE seen red where there are no bug tracks).

I had an extended conversation on a wood forum with a man, Kevin Jaynes, who ran a one-man sawmill operation and who has cut more box elder than most anyone else is likely to see in a lifetime and he initially contended that it was impossible for stress to be the cause, but he later relented somewhat from that position but he stated categorically that he had seen plenty of stress in box elder that is NOT accompanied by any red. If you look at the first three pics in the "web pics" section below, you'll see examples of why I tend towards the fungus, not the stress explanation (in addition to the fact that the aforementioned sawmill operator has seen stress without flame). Kevin's explanation / discussion is more compelling to me than that in the so-called scholarly paper.

Whatever the cause, flame box elder is a favorite of wood turners, and can often be found on craft-supply sites and eBay. Regular box elder is a much less interesting wood and has no characteristics that would favor it for use in furniture or much of anything and it is fairly rarely seen for sale so in a sense, almost all of the pics on this page are NOT representative of true box elder, but they ARE representative of what you will find in the marketplace because there is very little trade in "normal" box elder.

I want to emphasize that thanks to Kevin I have pics of better box elder than you are likely to normally find anywhere else and you may be disappointed if you look for stuff this good. Kevin was the founder of the "WoodBarter" forum but sadly he died in late 2016.

my samples:
NOTE: these pics were all taken in very bright incandescent lighting ("soft white" at 2700K)
colors will vary under other lighting conditions

This is a bowl I made and the same bowl after several years of daily exposure to strong indirect sunlight, showing the color fading of the box elder flame. There are much larger pics of both views at the bottom of this page.

two views of a batch of rough cut box elder that I got from Kevin Jaynes (more about his box elder below). This is fabulous stuff and I'll get more pics after I surface some of it.

this set shows the large plank that is in the lower left of the pic above showing the batch I got from Kevin; I have sanded it down to 120 grit for the pics. This plank is the best piece of box elder I have personally ever seen and I've shown both sides both dry and moistened with water to show what it would look like with a finishing agent on it.

a couple of shots of the platter I made from this plank --- I intended for the natural edge to be larger but most of it got turned off

After cutting the large plank directly above the platter above into a circle for the platter, these are the cut-offs that I'll use in other bowls or in my sample box. The pic is just slightly washed out and should have more red in it.

both sides of a couple of small, sanded planks that were taken from one of the long turning blocks in the lot above from Kevin. The block had a huge crack running diagonally through the middle, so I had to cut it up. There are some more pieces from it down below. Like the cut-offs directly above, these pics, and the several more directly below are all a bit washed out and should have a little more red in them.

end grain from the pieces directly above

end grain closeups of the pieces directly above

the rest of the sticks cut from the same long turning block as the two above that have end grain closeup shots.

both sides of a plank that has both curl and flame (and blue stain in the sapwood)

end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above

both sides of a plank

end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above

turning stock with a relatively pale flame

end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above

both sides of another piece contributed to the site by Kevin. HUGE enlargements are present

end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above

END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above. The orangish tint is correct but is not entirely due to the way light interacts with the fine-sanded wood but is also contributed to by the fact that this fairly soft wood absorbs the very fine sanding particles, some of which come for the pieces next to it (when it was being sanded) and thus have an average color that is not as white at this piece.

both sides and the end grain of a small plank, also contributed by Kevin

both sides and the end grain of turning stick, also contributed by Kevin

Four book-matched sample-sized pairs contributed by Kevin

both sides and end grain, pair #1

both sides and end grain, pair #2

both sides and end grain, pair #3

both sides and end grain, pair #4

end pairs

both sides and both ends of a box elder sample piece --- the pink spot in the corner shows up better in the enlargement and is a trivial example of the "flame" characteristic.

end grain closeup of the piece directly above

END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above

both sides of a sample plank of box elder / Acer negundo --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. Note that this piece is "normal" box elder with no flame at all

end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above

END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above

both sides of a sample plank of box elder / Acer negundo --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. Note that this piece is "normal" box elder with no flame at all

end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above

flame box elder planks --- color is correct; the smaller pieces shown directly below are from the upper left plank in this pic, and their color is somewhat more faded than the wood actually is; that is, the color in this pic is more correct than the color in those directly below

a couple of small planks cut from the set above. The color shown is more orange than it should be; actual color is the red shown in the pic directly above. This was the result of my attempting to make the sapwood have a correct off-white color instead of a much more yellowish color that came out of the camera. I almost got the sapwood right (it's actually STILL to yellowish in these pics) but I lost sight of the fact that I had turned the heartwood from the true red of the wood to an orange that is not correct.

end grain of the pieces directly above --- these look much more vibrant in reality than how they appear in this pic (the shift in color to the false orange REALLY makes a difference)

end grain closeups of the pieces directly above

END GRAIN UPDATE from the 2nd pic directly above

both sides of a plank of curly box elder (without any flame, obviously)

end grain of the piece directly above

end grain and side grain closeups of the piece directly above

Needed another end grain for the anatomy pages so I took this shot of a cutoff from one of the planks shown elsewhere on this page and did the HIGH GRIT END GRAIN CLOSEUP of the piece.

Needed another end grain for the anatomy pages so I took this shot of a cutoff from one of the planks shown elsewhere on this page and did the HIGH GRIT END GRAIN CLOSEUP of the piece.

The Wood Book pics

flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
box elder (Acer negundo, also listed as ash leaved maple and just "negundo") from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for each of the 3 views. Obviously, this is just plain old box elder with no flame.

web pics:

a plaque, a book-matched plaque, and a tree cross section, all of flame box elder and all showing how extensive the red can be and why it is that I find the fungus explanation is more compelling than the stress explanation (see discussion at top of page) --- I just find it hard to believe that stress would have such a widespread and relatively uniformly distributed effect.

These plaque pics and numerous others on this page (in paricular the ones directly below but likely others as well) are the property of Kevin Jaynes who founded one of the best woodworking forums on the Internet, Wood Barter Forum and who has graciously allowed me to use numerous of his pics, for which I thank him. Kevin had what is possibly the best set of box elder wood in the world and which is certainly the best I have ever seen or been aware of in any way. Sadly, Kevin died in late 2016.

a couple of freshly milled slabs

freshly milled cant with one face in direct sunlight --- the two surfaces show how lighting changes the color of this wood (as it does for most woods)

freshly cut log ends

ambrosia box elder

some bookmatched slabs

a particularly spectacular slab pair that Kevin christened "fire angel"

one of Kevin's scrap piles

turning stock (waxed)

figured turning stock

bowl blanks (waxed)

log end of a piece that is spalted and has punky white rot in the middle (you can see black-line spalting all the way around the white rot)

a big burl piece --- note that the left side is dry and the rest was moistened for the pic; both enlargements are present

box elder "candywood" (just another name for flame box elder), moistened

a plank that Kevin said had a particularly rare combination of colors and also is heavier than most box elder.

listed as "red heart" box elder which is just another name for flame box elder


all of the above pics are courtesy of Kevin Jaynes, and just to give you an idea of how it is that he has SO many pics of box elder, here is just ONE of the loads of that wood that he has harvested ... the wood is NOT normally this easly to come but but Kevin tells me he has found his own practically magical place where the stuff grows rampant ... he just has to risk life and limb to cut it and haul it out on his own.

Kevin's trailer

Note: some of the pics from here down are ALSO from Kevin, I just didn't do as good a job on these of keeping his separated out from the rest.

logs showing flame end grain, and a closeup and then a full stump

box elder flat cut, quartersawn, end grain

flat cut, quartersawn, and end grain, all of different pieces of flame box elder

two sides of a freshly milled cant

unseasoned slabs ... unseasoned flame box elder still has moist wood and the color can be wicked beautiful


spalted slab with punky white rot in the middle

fresh cut slabs, showing moisture on the surface

slabs and a closeup --- a lot of blue stain in these; not terribly unusual for box elder

slabs, all from the same vendor. Enlargements are present.

crotch slab

log slabs, probably moistened for the pic

box elder planks with varying degrees of flame

a very well-photographed, 3" long, piece listed as box elder / Acer negrundo with both levels of enlargement, the 2nd of which shows the face grain very nicely. The gray area is mineral stain, which is quite common in maple.

interesting plank that has far more brown background than is usual along with the red flame

areas cropped from box elder burl bowl blanks, all from the same vendor and all waxed.

small pieces with nice color


turning stock with varying degrees of flame --- I think the purple tint in the first 2 pics is likely more due to the camera than the wood, but I could be wrong about that.

fresh cut turning stock moistened for the pic

plaques / cookies specifically listed as clock blanks

box elder burl

box elder slabs with no flame and what appears to be blue stain.

plank with a color that is outside my experience with box elder ... I'm dubious about the ID on this one

box elder crotch --- there is only a tiny amount of red, which you can see in the upper left in the enlargements

box elder bowl blanks

flame bowl blanks (most are waxed)

box elder piece with burl section and figured section

a couple of fresh-cut crotches showing a lot of blue stain


crotch slabs with some parts moistened --- you have to go to the 2nd enlargement to really appreciate the grain.

box elder tree w/ lots of burls; pic contributed by Matthew Bills, whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site (see his burl box elder platter at the bottom of the page)


planks listed as "burl" but only some areas of them have any burl so a solidly honest vendor would have listed them as either "burly" or "cluster burl"

box elder slab properly listed as cluster burl

burl with a lot of flame and moistened for the pic --- this is a pretty amazing piece even if the color has been somewhat exaggerated (I'm not sayin that I know it has been, I'm just doubtful about it)

a pair of curly scales and some pen blanks all with little to no flame but some blue stain

pen blanks

pen blanks specifically listed as "flamed"

24" long peppermill blanks


box elder "flamed" spalted burl

listed as "flame burl" but I don't see much flame

burl pen blanks

flame box elder burl bowl --- this one does have a little red in it and otherwise looks just like a normal maple burl

spalted planks

spalted slabs all from the same tree --- the blackline spalting is more clear in the enlargements

spalted bowl blank

large box elder cookies with both levels of enlargement present. These are probably all from the same bole

clock back

earrings made by Dean Robertson from flamed box elder that I sent him on a trade

hat of box elder shot at a woodworking show. HUGE enlargements are present. The finish is polyurethane.

mills listed as "shakers" and then a peppermill listed as a peppermill :-)



turned form listed as a "lidded jar"

bowls with varying amounts of flame

two views of a bowl of curly box elder with what appears to be mineral stain (common in maple)

wormy box elder bowl shot at a woodworking show. HUGE enlargements are present. The finish is wax over shellac.

non-flamed box elder bowl

two views of a shallow bowl

nice natural edge bowl

two views of a natural edge bowl

three views of a bowl, nicely turned by David Keller (whom I thank for the pics) out of a particularly nice piece of flame box elder

three views of a bowl, showing nicely how the flame can sometimes be diffuse instead of streaky

a set of nested bowls (all made from the same bowl blank, roughted out with a coring system)

bowls by Bryan Nelson (NelsonWood).

flame bowl by Leo Frilot


three views of a vase

segmented vase

vase being turned and pretty much finished


burl pen

box elder turning round, then on the lathe (in different lighting), then as the final result; a lamp shade

gun grips (NOT raw wood --- there's a hard shiny finish of some sort)

box elder box with walnut splines and bottom

spalted platter, spalted bowl and a "spalted" box --- the "spalting" on the box is clearly not spalting at all, it is blue stain

turned box

hollow forms

burl hollow form and then one with spalting

vase blank and rough turned

two views of a burl hollow form and then an interesting burl hollow form that is given the form of nesting inside a bowl

two views of a hollow form that had to have been a real bear to turn

two views of a turned box

box elder burl vases --- no flame on either one. I'm not sure that first one is really box elder. It looks more like red maple.

burl box elder platter by Matthew Bills; it has very little flame but some nice curl/quilt/whatever and extreme enlargements are present

bowl made from an unusual (in my experience) piece of wood that is box elder attacked by the ambrosia beetle, so that it contains both the fungus-induced red of box elder and the tan-colored streaks caused by the boring of the beetle. The separate colors can be seem more clearly in the enlargements. There are far more insect-holes than is normal for attacks by the ambrosia beetle, so I assume that this tree suffered multiple attacks by boring insects and it is interesting to note that nowhere near all of the bug holes have any red near them, which further discredits the conclusions of the scholarly paper discussed at the top of this page.

box elder bowl with some heavy mineral stain in addition to some nice flame. My wife really loved this one, so I gave it to her and refinished and repainted an old beat up stand we had in the attic and got some bright-colored fake flowers to put in it for display. She was very impressed. This was made from the bowl blank in the upper left of the pic at the very top of this page of the batch of box elder sent to me by Kevin Jaynes. Several years later, I took the pic on the right, showing how the box elder flame color fades over time. This bowl was exposed to strong indirect sunlight every day for years.

box elder from the BogusColorVendor, so the orange sapwood colors are suspect


both sides of a burl strip and a closeup

box elder planks with varying degrees of flame and a sapwood color that is highly unlikely unless the wood has been treated with something like polyurethane that yellows the sapwood in maple.