Our Sugar Maple tree is located along Teece Avenue in Bayne Park. Look for the opposite branching pattern and the recognizable shape of the maple leaf we are familiar with from the packaging of real maple syrup.
Scientifically known as Acer saccharum, the species name saccharum means sweet in reference to the sugar content of the sap.
Real maple syrup is made from the sap of Sugar Maple trees. From mid-February to late March, a series of warm sunny days with temperatures above freezing, and cold nights with temperatures below freezing are ideal for optimal sap flow. Once the trees are tapped, sap flows off of the specialized spout called a spile into the collection bucket. The sap is collected and boiled in an evaporator to remove much of the water content. It takes forty gallons of sap to make just one sweet gallon of maple syrup!
The picturesque collection method shown above has mostly given way to a more modern system of plastic taps and tubing. The tubing is often arranged so that gravity will efficiently carry the sap from multiple trees to a central holding tank.
Sugar Maple sap has the highest sugar content of all of the maples. While sap from other maple trees can be used to produce syrup, the sugar content of the sap is much lower so the endeavor requires an even larger volume of sap, and increased boiling time.
The image below by Plant Image Library shows dormant winter buds, which resembles an upside down ice-cream sugar cone with its overlapping scales and sharp tip. Once the bud swells in the Spring it will burst open.
Before the leaves unfurl, small chartreuse flowers appear in pendulous clusters. Both male and female flower clusters may appear on the same tree, and sometimes male and female flowers even form in the same cluster.
Viewed from afar, a blooming Sugar Maple tree is very conspicuous in the landscape. The flowers are primarily pollinated by the wind, but insects also pollinate the flowers. The early Spring flowers of the Sugar Maple provide a critical supply of nectar and pollen to insects, especially bees.
When the leaf buds burst later in the Spring it marks the end of the maple sugaring season, as chemical changes occurring in the tree impart a noticeable bitterness to the sap.
Sugar Maples are monolayered, with leaves arranged in a precise non-overlapping pattern which helps each leaf receive optimal solar energy. This is especially advantageous in forest habitats where there is a low amount of sunlight beneath the canopy of larger and more mature trees. The leaves of the Sugar Maple are even shaped and sized to maximize light absorption, with the lower leaves being conspicuously larger and less lobed. Another example of a monolayered tree in Bayne Park is the Kousa Dogwood.
Pollinated female flowers eventually produce the samaras containing the seeds. Maple seeds are heavy and can’t float aloft in the breeze in a feathery coating like other lighter seeds, so the tree equips the fruit containing the seed with wings to assist in dispersal. Known to most people as helicopters, whirlybirds, or whirligigs, the samaras are primarily scattered by the wind which can carry the seeds over three-hundred feet.
In Autumn, Sugar Maple leaves initially turn bright red, but later often fade to orange, ultimately becoming yellow. The red color in Sugar Maple leaves is caused by anthocyanin, which is a pigment produced by leaves with high sugar content. Once the abscission layer (which is a barrier of thin-walled cells that develops at the base of the leaf stem in advance of the leaf falling) forms the stem no longer transports sugar to the leaf. Any sugar remaining in the leaf is converted to anthocyanin, ultimately breaking down to reveal the underlying yellow pigment.
Anthocyanin is also responsible for the red skin of ripe apples. Because light exposure is required to produce the red pigment, an apple can exhibit color gradation form red on the side most exposed to sunlight to green on the other side of the apple most exposed to shade. Similarly, you may observe the leaves of a Sugar Maple exhibiting more intense red coloration on the south-facing side of the tree that receives the most sun exposure.
Particularly dry weather can drastically reduce the intensity of the red Autumn color of Sugar Maple leaves, because parched leaves contain less sugar affecting anthocyanin production.
Once fallen, Sugar Maple leaves tend to quickly decompose in only one-and-a-half years, while other species like Aspen and Beech can take up to three years to completely decompose.
In the cool of the evenings earthworms come to the surface of their burrows to forage for decaying leaves. They prefer leaves with high sugar and high nitrogen levels. Sugar Maple leaves meet that criteria, so they are among their favorites.
Northern flickers and black-capped chickadees can be found nesting in cavities of Sugar Maple trees.
The young bark is grey or brownish-grey with a finely crackled surface reminiscent of aged paint. As the tree grows, shallow vertical cracks develop. Greenish/blackish streaks can be created by squirrels when they chew through the bark in the spring to access the sweet flowing sap. Squirrels also feed on the buds, seeds, twigs, and leaves of the Sugar Maple.
You may also notice the bark of a Sugar Maple marked with rows of neatly-organized holes, evidence that a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is living up to its name!
Sugar Maple wood is tough, hard, durable, heavy, and strong. It is prized for furniture and cabinet making, and also frequently used for flooring and cutting boards. It is used to produce pool cues, archery bows, baseball bats, basketball courts, dance floors, bowling alleys, bowling pins, and musical instruments.
Maple: 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Pure Maple Syrup by seasoned sap-tapper and author Katie Webster takes you behind the scenes to learn about her backyard maple sugaring hobby and shares an abundance of recipes all featuring maple syrup.
Maple Sugar: From Sap to Syrup, the History, Lore, and How-to Behind this Sweet Treat by Tim Herd explores the fascinating history of maple sugaring. Learn every nuanced step of the sugaring process in this informative guide that includes temptingly sweet recipes.
Bear Goes Sugaring by Eaton Maxwell is an informative picture book full of diagrams, fun facts, and colorful illustrations. Bear covers every single step involved in the process of making of maple syrup while his two sidekicks, squirrel and dog, become increasingly ravenous as the syrup nears readiness. Their hilarious antics will have children gleefully turning the pages of this sweet informative book!
Learn more about all the Trees of Bayne Park and explore our Interactive Bayne Park Tree Map to see the locations, photographs, and names of over a dozen different species of trees. Be sure to also visit our Treesources page to learn about local trees, caring for trees, and more.