- Canada’s Arboreal Emblems:
- Trees of the Adirondacks: Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
- History Of Maples – Historical And Modern Maple Tree Uses
- History of Maples
- The sugar maple stands out in a landscape. Medium to dark-green leaves turn yellow, burnt orange, and red in the fall. This tree tolerates shade, likes a well-drained, moderately moist, and fertile soil. One should not plant this tree in confined areas or where salt is a problem. This tree grows 60’ to 75’ and spreads 40’ to 50’.
- Physical characteristics
- Ecological characteristics
- Importance to the ecosystem
- Relationship with other species
- Other interesting facts
- Trees of the Adirondacks: Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
Maple, (Acer), any of a large genus (about 200 species) of shrubs or trees in the family Sapindaceae, widely distributed in the North Temperate Zone but concentrated in China. Maples constitute one of the most important groups of ornamentals for planting in lawns, along streets, and in parks. They offer a great variety of form, size, and foliage; many display striking autumn colour. Several yield maple syrup, and some provide valuable, dense hard wood for furniture and other uses. All maples bear pairs of winged seeds, called samaras or keys. The leaves are arranged oppositely on twigs. Many maples have lobed leaves, but a few have leaves separated into leaflets.
Among the popular smaller maples the hedge, or field, maple (A. campestre) and Amur, or ginnala, maple (A. ginnala) are useful in screens or hedges; both have spectacular foliage in fall, the former yellow and the latter pink to scarlet. The Japanese maple (A. palmatum), developed over centuries of breeding, provides numerous attractive cultivated varieties with varying leaf shapes and colours, many useful in small gardens. The vine maple (A. circinatum), of wide-spreading, shrubby habit, has purple and white spring flowers and brilliant fall foliage. The shrubby Siebold maple (A. sieboldianum) has seven- to nine-lobed leaves that turn red in fall.
Medium-sized maples, often more than 9 metres (30 feet) tall, include the big-toothed maple (A. grandidentatum); some believe it to be a subspecies of sugar maple, a Rocky Mountain tree, often multistemmed, displaying pink to red fall foliage. Coliseum maple (A. cappadocicum) and Miyabe maple (A. miyabei) provide golden-yellow fall colour. The three-flowered maple (A. triflorum) and the paperbark maple (A. griseum) have tripartite leaves and attractive peeling bark, in the former tannish and in the latter copper brown.
The ash-leaved maple, or box elder, is a fast-growing tree of limited landscape use. The Norway maple (A. platanoides), a handsome, dense, round-headed tree, has spectacular greenish-yellow flower clusters in early spring; many cultivated varieties are available with unusual leaf colour (red, maroon, bronze, or purple) and growth form (columnar, globular, or pyramidal).
Get exclusive access to content from our 1768 First Edition with your subscription. Subscribe today
Large maples, usually in excess of 30 metres high, that are much planted for shade include the sugar (A. saccharum), silver (A. saccharinum), and red (A. rubrum) maples. The Oregon, or bigleaf, maple (A. macrophyllum) provides commercially valuable wood darker than that of other maples; it shows bright-orange fall foliage. The Sycamore maple (A. pseudoplatanus), an important shade and timber tree in Europe, has many ornamental varieties.
In one group of maples, the vertically striped silvery-white young bark provides an attractive winter landscaping feature. These trees are the striped maple (A. pennsylvanicum), the red snake-bark maple (A. capillipes), the Her’s maple (A. hersii), and the David’s maple (A. davidii). The chalk maple, with whitish bark, is sometimes classified as A. leucoderme, although some authorities consider it a subspecies of sugar maple.
The parlour maples, or flowering maples, are bedding and houseplants in the genus Abutilon.
Canada’s Arboreal Emblems:
The generic maple species (Acer spp) is Canada’s official arboreal emblem. There are more than 100 different species of maple around the world, 10 of which are native to Canada: sugar, black, silver, bigleaf, red, mountain, striped, Douglas, vine, and Manitoba.
While most maples are trees that can reach anywhere from 10 metres to 45 metres tall, other maples are shrubs of less than 10 metres in height. Leaves of maples are usually deciduous in opposite pairs and are palmately veined and lobed in most species. Maple trees are known for their vibrant leaf colours in autumn. The fruits of maples are samaras in winged pairs enclosing a seed that are dispersed by wind. Maple is an important food source for wildlife.
The wood of maples varies among species and is generally light in colour. Maple wood is used for furniture, flooring, woodwork, plywood, and firewood. Most species produce sap that can be used to produce sugar. The most notable commercial production of maple syrup comes from the sugar maple.
A stylized maple leaf famously adorns the Canadian flag but is also found in other important Canadian symbols including the red ensign flag (Canada’s de facto national flag until 1965) and the Royal Coat of Arms of Canada. Stylized versions of the leaf can also be found on bank notes, military insignia, the personal flag of the Queen of Canada and the flag of the Governor General of Canada.
Leaves are simple, opposite and deciduous; palmately lobed and veined.
Fruit is a double samara that looks like a pair of airplane propellers.
Wood, especially burl wood, is highly valued.
Maples comprise one of the largest, most diverse, and most important groups of broadleaved trees in the world. There are about 125 species of maples in the world, with most living in China and the Far East. Maples are noted for their oppositely arranged and palmately lobed leaves, and their propellor-like seeds, called samaras.
Thirteen maples are native to North America; 3 are native to Oregon:
bigleaf maple: leaves commonly 6″-12″ in diameter (sometimes larger); samaras grow at right angles to one another and have fuzzy heads.
vine maple: leaves have 5-9 lobes and are generally 2″-4″ in diameter; samaras grow at 180 degrees to one another and do not have fuzzy heads.
Rocky Mountain maple: leaves have 3 main lobes and are 2″-5″ in diameter; samaras grow at right angles to one another and do not have fuzzy heads.
For more information on the ashes native to the Pacific Northwest, go to the species page or see “Trees to Know in Oregon”.
Shape and Distribution
Sugar maple, also known as hard maple or rock maple, is a medium to large tree, from 70 to 90 feet tall. The trunk is relatively short, up to 3 feet in diameter, and the branches are numerous and spreading, forming a large, rounded crown. Sugar maple grows in ever county in Illinois and prefers moist, mesic forests. It is an important component of the eastern deciduous forest. Its range extends from New Foundland across to Manitoba in the north, south to eastern Texas and east to Florida.
Sugar maple is one of the most valuable hardwoods from a commercial standpoint. It provides a variety of patterned wood for lumber and for furniture (tiger maple, birdseye maple, and curly maple, for example). The tree also produces the sap for maple syrup. Black maple (Acer nigrum) is very similar to sugar maple, producing the same interesting patterned wood and sap that can be made into palatable maple syrup.
Sugar maple bark is gray to dark brown and moderately thick. It is smooth when young, becoming furrowed with age. The twigs are slender, smooth and reddish brown, with obvious lenticels on younger portions. The buds are ¼ inch long, smooth or slightly hairy, and brown.
Sugar maple leaves are simple and opposite. They are up to 5 inches long and are 3 to 5 (palmately) lobed with coarsely toothed margins. They are dark green and smooth on the upper surface, paler on the underside, and either smooth or hairy along the veins. The leafstalks are up to 3 inches long and are sometimes hairy.
Male and female flowers are borne separately, sometimes on different trees. They appear in yellowish green clusters in early spring when the leaves begin to unfold.
The fruits are borne in winged pairs with a seed at the base of each wing in the pair. The wings are up to an inch long, yellow or green, sometimes brownish.
Sugar maple wood is heavy, strong, and attractive. It is used for cabinets, furniture, and interior finishing. Maple syrup is made from the sap and wildlife consumes the fruits/seeds. Sugar maple is also widely planted as an ornamental. Its leaves turn vivid shades of yellow and red in the fall.
Trees of the Adirondacks:
Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
Adirondack Tree List
E. H. Ketchledge. Forests and Trees of the Adirondack High Peaks Region (Adirondack Mountain Club, 1996), pp. 135-138.
New York Flora Association. New York Flora Atlas. Acer saccharum. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
United States Department of Agriculture. The Plants Database. Sugar Maple. Acer saccharum Marshall. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
United States Department of Agriculture. Forest Service. Silvics of North America. Sugar Maple. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
United States Department of Agriculture. Fire Effects Information System (FEIS). Species Reviews. Acer saccharum. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
United States Department of Agriculture. National Agricultural Statistics Service. Northeast Maple Syrup Production. 15 June 2016. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
United States Department of Agriculture. National Agricultural Statistics Service. United States Maple Syrup Production. 13 June 2018. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
United States Department of Agriculture. NRCS National Plant Data Center & the Biota of North America Program. Plant Guide. Sugar Maple. Acer saccharum Marsh. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
Northern Forest Atlas. Images. Acer Saccharum. Sugar Maple. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
Stan Tekiela. Trees of New York: Field Guide (Adventure Publications, Inc., 2006), pp. 152-153.
Michael Wojtech. Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast (University Press of New England, 2011), pp. 101-103.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Winter Deer Foods. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Acidic Talus Slope Woodland. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Beech-Maple Mesic Forest. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Calcareous Cliff Community. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Calcareous Talus Slope Woodland. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Floodplain Forest. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Hemlock-Northern Hardwood Forest. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Limestone Woodland. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Maple-Basswood Rich Mesic Forest. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Pine-Northern Hardwood Forest. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Riverside Ice Meadow. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Spruce-Northern Hardwood Forest. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
New York State. Adirondack Park Agency. Preliminary List of Species Native Within the Adirondack Park Listed Alphabetically by Scientific Name and Sorted by Habit. Volume 1. Updated 10.23.2006, p. 4. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
State University of New York. College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Porcupine. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Native Plant Database. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
University of Wisconsin. Trees of Wisconsin. Acer saccharum. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
Online Encyclopedia of Life. Acer saccharum. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
University of Michigan. Native American Ethnobotany. A Database of Foods, Drugs, Dyes and Fibers of Native American Peoples, Derived from Plants. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
Plants for a Future. Database. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
Steven Foster and James A. Duke. Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), p. 352.
Bradford Angier. Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants. Revised and Updated. (Stackpole Books, 2008), pp. 130-131.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. All About Birds. American Redstart, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-capped Chickadee, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Brown Creeper, Evening Grosbeak, Hermit Thrush, Indigo Bunting, Least Flycatcher, Merlin, Mourning Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Philadelphia Vireo, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-eyed Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Scarlet Tanager, Veery, White-breasted Nuthatch. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Birds of North America. Subscription Web Site. American Redstart, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-capped Chickadee, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Brown Creeper, Chimney Swift, Evening Grosbeak, Hermit Thrush, Indigo Bunting, Least Flycatcher, Merlin, Mourning Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Philadelphia Vireo, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-eyed Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Scarlet Tanager, Veery, White-breasted Nuthatch. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
George A. Petrides. A Field Guide to Eastern Trees (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998), pp. 54-55, 206-207.
George A. Petrides. A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1958,1972), pp. 6-7, 97-98, 120-121.
John Kricher. A Field Guide to Eastern Forests. North America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998), pp. 61, 72-75, 126-127.
Gil Nelson, Christopher J. Earle, and Richard Spellenberg. Trees of Eastern North America (Princeton : Princeton University Press), pp. 618-619.
C. Frank Brockman. Trees of North America (New York: St. Martin’s Press), pp. 210-211.
National Audubon Society. Field Guide to North American Trees (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), Plates 258, 374, 592, pp. 379-380.
Allen J. Coombes. Trees (New York: Dorling Kindersley, Inc., 1992), p. 101.
Gary Wade, et al. Vascular Plant Species of the Forest Ecology Research and Demonstration Area, Paul Smiths, New York. USDA Forest Service. Research Note NE-380, p. 5. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
Mark J. Twery, et al. Changes in Abundance of Vascular Plants under Varying Silvicultural Systems at the Forest Ecosystem Research and Demonstration Area, Paul Smiths, New York. USDA Forest Service. Research Note NRS-169. Retrieved 22 January 2017, p. 6.
New England Wildflower Society. Go Botany. Sugar Maple. Acer saccharum Marsh. Retrieved 12 February 2017.
John Eastman. The Book of Forest and Thicket: Trees, Shrubs, and Wildflowers of Eastern North America (Stackpole Books, 1992), pp. 128-132.
Daniel A. Bishop et al. Regional growth decline of sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and its potential causes. 21 October 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
Geoff Wilson, “Scientists Challenged by Sugar Maple Decline,” Outside Story, 5 September 2004. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
Tim Wilmott, “The North American Maple Project,” Farming: The Journal of Northeast Agriculture, January 2010. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
“New Study: Adirondack Sugar Maples In Decline,” Adirondack Almanack, 21 October 2015. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
Trees of the Adirondack Mountains
History Of Maples – Historical And Modern Maple Tree Uses
The sugar maple (Acer saccharum) captures the imagination with its sweet sap harvested with a little spigot and its inspiring autumn display. It is one of America’s most beloved trees, named state tree of no less than four states. And the history of maples is as intriguing as the tree itself, spanning several centuries. Read on for interesting tidbits from maple tree history.
History of Maples
The history of maples began centuries ago. Maple trees existed in North America for hundreds of years and the sugary sap was harvested by Native Americans. However, modern maple tree history began in 1663. That’s when chemist Robert Boyle described the “new world” tree to Europeans. Settler John Smith was one of the first to describe the sugar-making process used by Native Americans. He noted other interesting maple tree uses, like the fact Native Americans brewed cough medicine from the tree’s inner bark.
Other maple tree uses over the years included producing soap from maple ashes. Settlers also used the bark as a dye. Over time, some people were known to consume the sap as a spring tonic, while others ingested it to treat liver and kidney problems. Harvesting sweet sap has played a large role in the history of maple trees. And sugar maple is still grown for sugar production. You’ll find acres of it in the eastern United States and Canada servicing this purpose.
But other important maple tree uses include roles in lumber production. Sugar maple wood is exceptionally dense and hard. That’s why it is used to make furniture and cabinets. These trees are also used in landscapes, but sugar maples aren’t appropriate for small gardens. The tree can shoot up to 75 feet tall (26 m.) and one of maple tree uses is as a shade tree, with its spreading canopy capable of blocking sunlight.
Sugar maples also are ornamentals, adding immensely to the beauty of a large backyard. The distinctive leaves usually have five lobes and grow larger than a man’s hand. In fall, they blaze in fiery colors before they fall. The tree produces winged seeds that are interesting and attractive. They come to maturity in September or October.
A Sugar Maple by: Raymond A. Foss
“Reds and oranges, yellows and greens
the fall colors of the sugar maple
adorning the front lawn of the church
ripening leaves, fall fruits
shimmering in the bright morning sun
a blue sky behind, framing them all
clinging to the stems the branches
for a few minutes more, holding on
to their moments in the sun
painting colors across the sky
a treasure, part of creation’s tableau
greeting us this morning, yesterday morning
on the way to worship.”
Besides providing beautiful borders to many miles of highway, and hundreds of thousands of gallons of maple syrup, it yields a wood of high grade. The wood is hard, strong, close-grained, and tough, with a fine, satiny surface. It is in great demand for flooring, veneer, interior finish, furniture, and as a fuel wood of the best quality.
Photo By: Julia Giza
Leaf: The leaves are simple and opposite from each other on the maple tree. They grow 3 to 5 inches wide and contain 3 to 5 shallow lobes with wide-spaced coarse teeth. The leaves are dark green, paler below, and the clefts are rounded at the base. Each leaf edge is smooth between the points and the left stalk (petiole) is typically equal in length or shorter than the leaf blade.
Flower | Seeds: The flowers of sugar maple are greenish yellow with long stalks (pedicles) appearing in drooping clusters 1 to 2.5 inches long. Sugar maple is monoecious, which has a female (staminate) and male (pistillate) flowers on the same plant.
The maple grows keys (samaras), in short clusters, ripening in September. Samaras are paired with the seeds joining each other in a straight line, but the wings are separated by about 60 degrees.
Shape: The maple tree has an oval, rounded shape to it.
Twigs: Slender, shining, and warmly brown, the color of the maple sugar.
Trunk | Bark: The bark on the younger trees is dark gray, close, smooth, and firm; becoming furrowed into long irregular plates lifting along one edge. On mature trees, the bark usually appears to have long plates that peel along the side edge.
Life span: The Sugar maple enjoys an exceptionally long lifespan ranging from 300 to 400 years.
Sugar maple is one of 148 maple species that are found in the Northern Hemisphere, which includes about 90 native and introduced species in the United States. The range of sugar maple in North America extends from Nova Scotia and Quebec at its northern edge, west to Ontario, southeastern Manitoba, and western Minnesota, south to southern Missouri, and east to Tennessee and northern Georgia. Sugar maple is most common in New England and the Great Lakes states as well as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.
Elevation limits vary throughout sugar maple’s extensive range. In northern New York and New England sugar maple occurs at elevations up to 2,500 feet. In the Great Lakes states, 1,600 feet is usually the upper limit. However, in the southern portions of its range, where the climate is typically warmer, sugar maple has a lower elevation limit of 3,000 feet and an upper limit of 5,500.
Average temperatures within the geographic range of sugar maple have average January temperatures from 0 to 50° F and average July temperatures from 60 to 80° F. Maximum temperatures in the summer months range from 90 to 100° F, while winter minima vary from -40 to +20° F. Annual precipitation throughout the geographical range averages 20 to 50 inches of rain, plus from 1 to 150 inches of snow. In unusually wet years in the southern reaches of this broad range total annual rain in excess of 80 inches has been recorded.
The first killing frost usually occurs between September 1 and November 10 and the last from March 20 to June 15, depending on latitude and elevation. Thus, average growing seasons are from 80 to 260 days.
Sugar Maple Tree Distribution
Importance to the ecosystem
The Sugar Maple plays an important ecological role in many forests of the northeastern US and eastern Canada. One particular species of bird called the Leaf Flycatcher (Empidonax minimus) has been shown to have increased stress when sugar maples in a particular area are declining. This is a result of a decrease in the sugar maples’ foliage. This species of bird catches its food by picking up insects off of leaves. So, a decrease in sugar maple foliage results in less leaves with insects residing on them for the bird to catch and eat.
In addition, the sugar maple trees produce a large amount of leaf litter every fall and it is this leaf litter that helps contribute to earthworms’ success. Earthworms are also important for Acer saccharum itself as it facilitates the breakdown of the leaf material. They will take the leaf litter and break it down to its essential nutrients that the sugar maple can take up and reuse later.
Lastly, The roots of the sugar maple also have important interactions with fungi in which endomycorrizal or ectomycorrizal interactions have helped them to increase their water and nutrient absorption. This interaction is a necessity as the sugar maple would not be able to grow to such large heights without this interaction. The fungi as well would not be able to grow as well if they were not provided with an easy access to nutrients from the Sugar maple.
Relationship with other species
Non-human: White-tailed deer, moose, snowshoe hare, flying squirrels, lepidopertan larvae, and aphids are all animals that feed on the sugar maple seeds, buds, twigs, and leaves. Porcupines also consume the bark of the tree and can girdle the upper stem. Songbirds, woodpeckers, and cavity nesters nest in the sugar maple. The flowers appear to be wind-pollinated, but the early-produced pollen is important for Apis mellifera (honeybees) and other insects.
Humans: Products that are made from sugar maple trees are common in household products throughout the country. The maple syrup and sugar industry is an important part of the many agricultural economies in the Northeast. The earliest written accounts of maple sugaring were made in the early 1600s by European explores who observed American Indians gathering maple sap. Today, sugar maple stands and roadside trees provide private landowners with an annual cash crop as well as a rewarding hobby.
This tree has long been valued as a hardwood timber species because of the wood’s hardness and resistance to shock. In early America, the wood was used for a variety of household items, including rolling pins, scoops, apple grinders, and cheese presses. Today its uses include lumber for general construction, flooring, furniture, cabinet work, and woodenware. The high density of sugar maple wood makes it a popular fuel for home heating.
Wood Boers – the insects in this group succeed only in stressed Sugar maples. This insects initiate the decomposition process that eventually leads to nutrient recycling. Wood borers many cause significant losses because of the lumber degrade or reduced crown size that results from their activities.
A number of organisms feed on the sugar maple foliage and cause visible damage. In addition, some insects and mites alter the trees growth when they stimulate the host to produce strange-looking growths called galls. These tumor-like abnormalities are derived from cells that grow excessively large. This unusual development is triggered by growth stimulants introduced into the plant in the saliva of insects and mites. The location, shape, and color of a gall, which provides a source of nutritious and readily available food and shelter for the pest, usually is distinctive to identify the gall maker.
Ocellate Gall Midge (Acericecis ocellaris)
Gouty Vein Midge (Dasineura communis)
Snout Beetles (Weevils)
Sugar maple has many types of leaf disease. Most of these disease are caused by fungi. Symptoms range from minute dead spots to the death of the entire leaf. Leaf diseases occur throughout the growing season but are more common in late spring during wet and cool periods. Defoliation by leaf diseases generally does not cause significant damage. It seldom lowers a tree’s ability to produce food energy by more than 25 to 30 percent. However, growth may slow and dieback can occur following serious episodes. In addition, air pollutants also may cause discolored or dead areas on leaves. With the exception of anthracnose, leaf diseases do not cause significant damage.
Phloeospora Leaf Spot (Phloeospora aceris)
Phyllosticta Leaf Spot (Phyllosticta minima)
Other interesting facts
The Sugar maple can survive in a wide variety of soil types, but for maximum tree growth and sap production, soils should be deep, moist, and well drained with medium or fine textures. In the Northeast, such soils are common along glacial tills and benches. Areas generally not favorable to sugar maple establishment include swamps, dry sandy ridges, and thin rocky soils.
- Sugar maple leaves contain about 1.8% calcium, 0.8% potassium, 0.1% phosphorus, and 0.7% nitrogen based on their dry weight.
- The minimum seed-bearing age for sugar maple is about thirty years. After this age some seed is produced every year, but massive quantities of viable seed are produced cyclically, usually at two to five-year intervals depending on climatic conditions.
Page drafted by Julia Giza
Trees of the Adirondacks:
Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
Trees of the Adirondacks: Sugar Maple leaves have five lobes. Sugar Maple leaf on the Barnum Brook Trail (28 July 2012)
This page is no longer being updated. For an updated and expanded version of this material, see: Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum).
The Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) is a large, deciduous tree which flourishes in well-drained soil in the Adirondack Mountains. It is a member of the Soapberry Family. The Sugar Maple is one of about twenty species in the genius Acer which occur in North America. Sugar Maples are also known as Hard Maple, Rock Maple, Head Maple, Sugartree, and Bird’s-eye Maple. The Sugar Maple is the state tree of New York and the national tree of Canada, as represented by the maple leaf on its flag. It has a life span of 200-300 years.
Sugar Maple leaves turn red, yellow, or orange in the fall. Sugar Maple at the Paul Smiths VIC (19 September 2012)
Identification of the Sugar Maple: Like other maples, Sugar Maples have opposite, lobed leaves. The leaves of the Sugar Maple usually have five squarish, shallow lobes. Each of the largest three lobes has one to several sharp-pointed tips. There is a moderately deep U-shaped notch between the lobes. The upper surface is green in the summer; the lower surface is pale green to whitish. The leaves turn red, yellow, or orange in autumn, contributing to the brilliant palette of colors seen in September and early October in the Adirondacks.
Keys to identifying the Sugar Maple and differentiating it from other maples include its leaves, bark, growth habit and habitat.
- Both Sugar Maple and Red Maple leaves may have five lobes. However, the leaves of the Sugar Maple lack the irregularly and usually double-toothed margins of the Red Maple. Also, the dips between the lobes of the Sugar Maple are u-shaped, while the indentations between the lobes of the Red Maple are pointy, forming a sharp “v.”
- The leaves of the Sugar Maple also differ from those of the Striped Maple (which are uniformly and finely double-toothed) and the Mountain Maple (which are coarsely toothed).
- The bark of the Sugar Maple is smooth and gray when the tree is young, becoming irregularly furrowed, scaly, and dark gray on older trees. Sugar Maple bark lacks the distinctive narrow, white vertical strips of the Striped Maple.
- The mature Sugar Maple is a large tree, growing 50-70 feet tall, with a straight, single trunk, many ascending branches, and a symmetrical oval head. This growth habit contrasts with that of the Striped Maple (which is a small tree or large shrub, often divided into several branches from near the base) and the Mountain Maple (which usually grows as a bushy shrub).
- Habitat is another clue distinguishing the Sugar Maple from the Red Maple. Red Maple trees are more tolerant of wet soil. A large, single-trunked maple tree growing near a marsh or other wetland is more likely to be a Red Maple.
Sugar Maple bark is gray – smooth when the tree is young and scaly when the tree gets older. Sugar Maple on the Barnum Brook Trail at the Paul Smiths VIC (28 July 2012)
The Sugar Maple flowers in mid- to late-spring, producing tiny greenish yellow flowers with five sepals. In the Adirondack Mountains, this tree usually flowers in May. The seeds are the familiar “helicopters.” The seeds are green, turning reddish tan; the seeds drop in late summer. The twigs of the Sugar Maple are glossy and reddish brown. The buds are brown and sharp; the buds are slender and pointed down.
Sugar Maples have been affected by climate change. The tree does not like the warmer temperatures and has already started to disappear in central and southern New York State. Some sources attribute the declining vigor of Sugar Maples in some areas to acid rain.
Historical Uses of the Sugar Maple: The Sugar Maple was the premier source of sweetener, along with honey, for both Native Americans and early European settlers. Native American tribes – including the Algonquin, Cherokee, Dakota, and Iroquois – used maple sap to make syrup and sugar. The Micmac also used the bark to make a beverage. The Ojibwa allowed the sap to sour to make vinegar, which was mixed with maple sugar to cook sweet and sour meat. The Potawatomi used maple sugar instead of salt to season all cooking. Cherokee used the wood for lumber and to make furniture. The Malecite used the wood to make paddles, torch handles, and oars. The Ojibwa used the wood to make bowls and other cooking tools. .
Native American tribes also used the Sugar Maple for medicinal purposes. For example, the Iroquois used maple sap for sore eyes and a compound infusion of the bark as drops for blindness. It was also used as a blood purifier and dermatological aid. The Mohegans used the inner bark as a cough remedy.
Current Uses of the Sugar Maple: The Sugar Maple is currently one of the most valuable hardwood trees in the Northeast. Its wood has a wide variety of uses, including furniture, paneling, flooring, interior trim and veneer. Sugar Maple wood is also used for gun stocks, tool handles, plywood dies, cutting blocks, wooden ware, novelty products, sporting goods, bowling pins, and musical instruments. The wood is especially suited for bowling alleys. Some trees develop special grain patterns – including birdseye maple, with dots suggesting the eyes of birds, and curly and fiddleback maple, with wavy annual rings. Such variations in grain are highly prized in cabinet making. Wood from the Sugar Maple is also a very good fuel, giving off a lot of heat and forming very hot embers. The ashes of the wood are rich in alkali and yield large quantities of potash .
Production of maple syrup, maple sugar, and other maple products is a major use for Sugar Maples. Sugar Maple at the Paul Smiths VIC.
In addition, the Sugar Maple – with sap which has twice the sugar content of other maple species – is the mainstay of commercial syrup production. Production of maple syrup is a multi-million-dollar industry in the U.S. and Canada. Canada, primarily Quebec, produces over 70% of the world’s maple syrup. The remainder is produced in the US, where maple syrup production in 2014 totaled 3.17 million gallons. The US value of production in 2013 was $132 million. Vermont is the largest US maple producer, producing 42% in 2014. New York State is the second largest producer, with 17%. New York State currently taps less than 1% of the state’s nearly 300 million maple trees.
Sugaring season begins in early spring, starting in February or early March in downstate regions. Nights below freezing and days at higher than 5°C are needed to ensure good sap flow. Each tree yields between 5 and 60 gallons of sap, depending on the health of the tree and the weather.
- Early in the spring, when the maple trees are still dormant, temperatures rise above freezing during the day. As a result, positive pressure develops in the tree, causing the sap to flow out of the tree through a half-inch wide tap hole which has been drilled about 4.5 feet above the ground.
- When the temperature drops back below freezing at night, suction develops, drawing water into the tree through the roots and replenishing the sap in the tree. This allows the sap to flow again during the next warm period.
- This cycle of warm and cool periods is essential for sap flow.
The maple sap is then boiled to produce maple syrup. Fresh sap flowing out of the maple tree usually contains around 2% sugar. Finished maple syrup is 66-67% sugar. To create maple syrup from maple sap, it is necessary to increase the sugar concentration of sap. Many gallons of water need to be removed. Usually, about 40 gallons of sap are required to produce one gallon of finished syrup, depending on the sugar content of the sap, which in turn depends on the health and age of the tree and the time of the season.
The Black-throated Blue Warbler, seen here on the Heron Marsh Trail at the VIC, is one of a number of bird species which breed in the mixed hardwood-conifer forests associated with Sugar Maples.
Wildlife Value of the Sugar Maple: Sugar Maple is a food source for several wildlife species. White-tailed deer, moose, and snowshoe hares commonly browse on Sugar Maple trees. Red squirrels feed on its seeds, buds, twigs, and leaves. Porcupines eat the bark and can girdle the upper stem. The flowers appear to be wind-pollinated, but the early-produced pollen is important for Apis mellifera (honeybees) and other insects. In addition, the Sugar Maple is a caterpillar host for the Cecropia Silkmoth and the Rosy Maple Moth.
A number of birds build nests in Sugar Maples, including American Redstarts, Evening Grosbeaks, Baltimore Orioles, and Northern Cardinals. Twigs from Sugar Maple trees are sometimes used by Chimney Swifts as nest-building material. For several species – including the Cerulean Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Hairy Woodpecker, and Summer Tanager – the Sugar Maple is one of the preferred trees for foraging for insects.
Bird species which breed in the Northern Hardwood Forest and mixed hardwood/conifer forests associated with Sugar Maples include:
|Mourning Warbler||Black-throated Blue Warbler|
|Hooded Warbler||Least Flycatcher|
|Northern Parula||Acadian Flycatcher|
|Brown Creeper||Red-eyed Vireo|
The Pink Lady’s Slipper (seen here on the Barnum Brook Trail) at the VIC) is one of the indicator species of the Northern Hardwood Forest.
Distribution of the Sugar Maple: Sugar Maples are widespread and abundant in the eastern and mid-western United States, into southern Canada. Sugar Maple are found throughout New English, New York, Pennsylvania, and the mid-Atlantic states. This species grows from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick westward to Ontario and Manitoba, North Dakota and South Dakota, southward into eastern Kansas into Oklahoma, and southward in the east through New England to Georgia.
The Sugar Maple grows in a wide variety of soils, but does best on deep, well-drained soils. It is rarely found in swamps.
The Sugar Maple – growing in abundance with Yellow Birch, Eastern Hemlock, American Beech, and Eastern White Pine – is an indicator species for the Northern Hardwood Forest. Sugar Maple are also common in mixed hardwood-conifer forests. The under-story in this habitat is often dominated by Striped Maple and Hobblebush. Herbaceous species which thrive here include Painted Trillium, Goldthread, Common Wood Sorrel, Carolina Spring Beauty, Pink Lady’s Slipper, and Wild Sarsaparilla.
Sugar Maples at the Paul Smiths VIC: Sugar Maples grow widely on the VIC property in hardwood and mixed hardwood-conifer forests and can be found along parts of virtually all the trails. However, because this tree does not tolerate wet soils, it is not found in the VIC’s wetland areas, such as Heron Marsh and Barnum Bog. The Sugar Maple is one of the eleven tree species marked with signage along the Barnum Brook Trail, providing a convenient way to learn to differentiate this species from the other maples, which are also identified on the trail.
Sugar Maples in the Paul Smiths VIC sugar bush. Photo by Tom Booth. Used by permission.
VIC Sugar Maples are also the key component of the VIC’s Maple Sugaring Program – part of a larger effort to increase local maple syrup production in New York State as a path to sustainable economic development. As part of the program, the VIC developed two demonstration sugar bushes – one with lines and one with buckets – to model what a family could do in their own back yard. The sugar bushes are located near the intersection of the Skidder Trail and the Easy Street Trail. The tubing is on the left hand side of the Skidder Trail (proceeding west); the buckets are concentrated on the other side of the Skidder Trail. The buckets are also dispersed in places where there are groups of suitable maples. Sugaring season in our part of the Adirondack Mountains usually lasts around five or six weeks, beginning as the weather warms in March.
The sap collected from the Sugar Maples is transported to the VIC Sugar House for processing. The VIC’s maple sugaring operation uses a wood-fired evaporator to remove the water from sap to produce syrup. The wood used to fuel the evaporator is harvested by students and staff from the VIC property and stored behind the sugar house. The VIC has developed interpretive signage for the Sugar House to help visitors understand and appreciate sugar making. Maple products produced in the VIC Sugar House are sold at the VIC store.
- United States Department of Agriculture. Forest Service. Silvics of North America. Sugar Maple. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
- United States Department of Agriculture. Plants Database. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
- United States Department of Agriculture. National Agricultural Statistics Service. Maple Syrup Production. 11 June 2014. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Native Plant Database. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
- University of Wisconsin. Trees of Wisconsin. Acer saccharum. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
- Online Encyclopedia of Life. Acer saccharum. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
- University of Wisconsin. Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
- New York Flora Association. New York Flora Atlas. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
- University of Michigan. Native American Ethnobotany. A Database of Foods, Drugs, Dyes and Fibers of Native American Peoples, Derived from Plants. Retrieved 21 January 2015..
- Plants for a Future. Database. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
- The Birds of North America. American Redstart, Evening Grosbeak, Chimney Swift, Baltimore Oriole, Northern Cardinal, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Veery, Mourning Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Least Flycatcher, Northern Parula, Acadian Flycatcher, Brown Creeper, Cerulean Warbler, Summer Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager, Hairy Woodpecker. Subscription Web Site. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
- Trees of the Northern Forest Trail Walk
- Paul Smith’s College VIC. Barnum Brook Tree Game.
- Michael Wojtech. Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast (UPNE, 2011).
- George A. Petrides. A Field Guide to Eastern Trees (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998), pp. 54-55, 206-207.
- George A. Petrides. A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1958,1972), pp. 6-7, 97-98, 120-121.
- John Kricher. A Field Guide to Eastern Forests. North America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998), pp. 61, 72-75, 126-127.
- Gil Nelson, Christopher J. Earle, and Richard Spellenberg. Trees of Eastern North America (Princeton : Princeton University Press), pp. 618-619.
- C. Frank Brockman. Trees of North America (New York: St. Martin’s Press), pp. 210-211.
- Keith Rushforth and Charles Hollis. Field Guide to the Trees of North America (Washington, D.C., National Geographic, 2006), p. 201.
- National Audubon Society. Field Guide to North American Trees (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), Plates 258, 374, 592, pp. 379-380.
- Allen J. Coombes. Trees (New York: Dorling Kindersley, Inc., 1992), p. 101.