Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)|
The sugar maple is the largest and most long lived of the
three types of maples (sugar, silver, and red) found on the Nature Trail. Mature specimens reach heights of seventy to one hundred feet and diameters of two to three feet. Some individuals attain ages of over three hundred years. The sugar maple is called a "hard" maple because of the density and strength of its wood. The long life of the tree and its resistance to disease and infestations are without question due to the durability of
its trunk and branch wood. Like other maples, the sugar maple has a shallow, spreading root system that is well adapted to wet soil conditions. The sugar maple, though, is not as restricted as the other maples to wet habitats and can form a deep root system in well-drained, deep upland soils.
The distinctive leaves of the sugar maple are from three to five inches in diameter and equally as wide. They have five deep, long-pointed lobes that often have a variable number of narrow, pointed teeth. The leaves are dark green above and a paler green below. In the fall the leaves turn an assortment of colors which include deep red, orange and yellow making a very distinctive autumnal crown appearance.
The flowers are yellowish-green, and they open just before the leaves expand in the early spring. Flowers are produced in great abundance every two to five years. During these heavy flower years sugar maples have a very distinctive early spring, yellow-green "glow" that is easily visible even some distances away. Samaras from the pollinated flowers developed through the summer and are released in the autumn in great abundance. Eight million maple seeds per acre have been collected in old growth sugar maple sites. Seedlings emerge in the spring. These seedlings grow well in the shaded conditions of the forest floor. Sugar maples are also able to stump sprout and root sprout after they are cut. An established sugar maple forest, then, via prodigious seed production, sprouting and long lived individuals is able to maintain itself even in the face of disruptive or destructive ecological events.
The bark of the sugar maple is light gray. It becomes very rough and deeply furrowed as the tree ages forming irregular ridges, plates and scales. The appearance and patterning of the bark of specific trees is quite individualized and variable. In the shaded conditions of the forest the trunk of the sugar maple is long and straight up into a dense, high crown. In more open conditions the trunk often branches near the ground to form a very wide, dense, rounded crown of branches and foliage.
The sugar maple is found in a number of forest associations with conifers (like white pine, red spruce, hemlock) in the northern parts of its range and with a number of hardwood species (like white ash, yellow poplar, hickories and oaks) through the rest of its northeastern U.S. range.
The sugar maple is probably best know as the source of sweet sap that can be converted into maple syrup or sugar. A tree tapped in the early spring as the sap begins to rise can yield between five and sixty gallons of sap. This sap is then boiled down to produce syrup or sugar. Thirty-two gallons of sap are needed to produce a single gallon of syrup and, as the precise sugar content of a tree's sap varies, between four and eight pounds of sugar.