NMSU professor develops maple tree designed to survive in New Mexico’s climate

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) – While we are only a few days into spring, a scientist here in New Mexico has fall on the brain. He’s created a specific maple tree that can survive New Mexico’s warm and dry desert climate. By next spring, you could be planting them in your front yard.

“It’s come full circle from a tiny seed all the way to a plant that is now in the trade,” said Rolston St. Hilaire, New Mexico State University Plant and Environmental Sciences department head and professor.

The blaze of autumn colors from maple trees is something typically associated with the mountains along the east coast or up north in Canada. But in New Mexico, it’s not a common site. In fact, you can only catch a glimpse of the maple tree in a few local cool mountainous places.

One New Mexico State University professor is bringing those deep, rich, colors of crimson, to more areas of New Mexico including your own yard.

“I was inspired by creating this plant primarily because of its fall color,” said St. Hilaire.

Hilaire is the brains behind the patent of a maple hybrid he’s dubbed the Mesa Glow Maple.

He got the idea to develop the plant after coming across the Bigtooth Maple in the Organ Mountains in Las Cruces.

“I thought wow, this could be something we could really duplicate here and people do really appreciate fall color,” said Hilaire.

He studied maples, area maps, and traveled across the Southwest collecting seeds.

His goal was to create a tree similar to the Bigtooth Maple that could thrive in New Mexico’s’ desert-like conditions.

At first, not everyone was sold.

“Initially it was very hard to convince some of my colleagues or graduate students that this plant has some potential,” said Hilaire.

A whole-sale tree grower in Oregon helped him test out different seedlings. Nearly two decades later, the Mesa Glow Maple came to fruition.

It’s a smaller version of the well-known maple tree, only growing to about 30 feet. This version can withstand dry climate, salty soil, and a lot of sunlight.

“The biggest take away I got from it is keep working on it until there is an end product,” said Hilaire.

Unfortunately for maple syrup lovers, this tree won’t be producing anything to top your pancakes with, at least for now. The professor says he might consider breeding maples to produce syrup in the future.

The Mesa Glow Maple is expected to hit the retail market in spring of 2018.