Acer saccharum

Acer saccharum, the sugar maple, is a species of flowering plant in the soapberry and lychee family Sapindaceae. It is native to the hardwood forests of eastern Canada and eastern United States.[3] Sugar maple is best known for being the primary source of maple syrup and for its brightly colored fall foliage.[4] It may also be known as "rock maple", "sugar tree", "birds-eye maple", "sweet maple", "curly maple",[5][6] or "hard maple", particularly when referring to the wood.[7]

Sugar maple

Secure  (NatureServe)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Sapindaceae
Genus: Acer
Section: Acer sect. Acer
Series: Acer ser. Saccharodendron
A. saccharum
Binomial name
Acer saccharum
Native range of Acer saccharum
  • Acer barbatum auct. non Michx.
  • Acer barbatum f. commune Ashe
  • Acer floridanum (Chapm.) Pax
  • Acer hispidum Schwer.
  • Acer leucoderme Small
  • Acer nigrum F. Michx.
  • Acer nigrum var. glaucum (Schmidt) Fosberg
  • Acer nigrum subsp. saccharophorum (K.Koch) R.T.Clausen
  • Acer palmifolium Borkh.
  • Acer palmifolium var. concolor Schwer.
  • Acer palmifolium f. euconcolor Schwer.
  • Acer palmifolium f. glabratum Schwer.
  • Acer palmifolium f. glaucum (Pax) Schwer.
  • Acer palmifolium var. glaucum Sarg.
  • Acer palmifolium f. integrilobum Schwer.
  • Acer rugelii Pax
  • Acer saccharinum var. glaucum Pax
  • Acer saccharinum var. viride Schmidt
  • Acer saccharophorum K.Koch
  • Acer saccharophorum f. angustilobatum Vict. & J.Rousseau
  • Acer saccharophorum f. conicum (Fernald) J.Rousseau
  • Acer saccharophorum f. glaucum (Schmidt) J.Rousseau
  • Acer saccharophorum var. rugelii (Pax) J.Rousseau
  • Acer saccharophorum var. subvestitum Vict. & Roll.-Germ.
  • Acer saccharum f. angustilobatum (Vict. & J.Rousseau) A.E.Murray
  • Acer saccharum f. conicum Fernald
  • Acer saccharum f. euconcolor Pax
  • Acer saccharum f. glabratum Pax
  • Acer saccharum f. glaucum (Schmidt) Pax
  • Acer saccharum var. glaucum (Schmidt) Sarg.
  • Acer saccharum var. glaucum Pax
  • Acer saccharum f. hispidum (Schwer.) A.E.Murray
  • Acer saccharum f. integrilobum Pax
  • Acer saccharum f. pubescens Pax
  • Acer saccharum var. quinquelobulatum A.E.Murray
  • Acer saccharum f. rubrocarpum A.E.Murray
  • Acer saccharum f. subvestitum (Vict. & Roll.-Germ.) A.E.Murray
  • Acer saccharum f. truncatum Pax
  • Acer saccharum f. villipes (Rehder) A.E.Murray
  • Acer saccharum f. villosum Pax
  • Acer saccharum var. viride (Schmidt) A.E.Murray
  • Acer saccharophorum K.Koch
  • Acer skutchii Rehder
  • Acer subglaucum Bush
  • Acer subglaucum var. sinuosum Bush
  • Acer treleaseanum Bush
  • Saccharodendron saccharum (Marshall) Moldenke


Seasonal leaf color change

Acer saccharum is a deciduous tree normally reaching heights of 25–35 m (80–115 ft),[8][9] and exceptionally up to 45 m (150 ft).[10] A 10-year-old tree is typically about 5 m (20 ft) tall. As with most trees, forest-grown sugar maples form a much taller trunk and narrower canopy than open-growth ones.

The leaves are deciduous, up to 20 cm (7.9 in) long and wide,[8] palmate, with five lobes and borne in opposite pairs. The basal lobes are relatively small, while the upper lobes are larger and deeply notched. In contrast with the angular notching of the silver maple, however, the notches tend to be rounded at their interior. The fall color is often spectacular, ranging from bright yellow on some trees through orange to fluorescent red-orange on others. Sugar maples also have a tendency to color unevenly in fall. In some trees, all colors above can be seen at the same time. They also share a tendency with red maples for certain parts of a mature tree to change color weeks ahead of or behind the remainder of the tree. The leaf buds are pointy and brown-colored. The recent year's growth twigs are green, and turn dark brown.

A pair of samaras
Flowers in spring

The flowers are in panicles of five to ten together, yellow-green and without petals; flowering occurs in early spring after 30–55 growing degree days. The sugar maple will generally begin flowering when it is between 10 and 200 years old. The fruit is a pair of samaras (winged seeds). The seeds are globose, 7–10 mm (9321332 in) in diameter, the wing 2–3 cm (341+14 in) long. The seeds fall from the tree in autumn, where they must be exposed to 45 days of temperatures below 4 °C (39 °F) to break their coating down. Germination of A. saccharum is slow, not taking place until the following spring when the soil has warmed and all frost danger is past.[11] It is closely related to the black maple, which is sometimes included in this species, but sometimes separated as Acer nigrum. The western American bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum) is also treated as a variety or subspecies of sugar maple by some botanists.

The sugar maple can be confused with the Norway maple, which is not native to America but is commonly planted in cities and suburbs, and they are not closely related within the genus. The sugar maple is most easily identified by clear sap in the leaf petiole (the Norway maple has white sap), brown, sharp-tipped buds (the Norway maple has blunt, green or reddish-purple buds), and shaggy bark on older trees (the Norway maple bark has small grooves). Also, the leaf lobes of the sugar maple have a more triangular shape, in contrast to the squarish lobes of the Norway maple.[12][13]

Although many people think a red sugar maple leaf is featured on the flag of Canada, the official maple leaf does not belong to any particular maple species; although it perhaps most closely resembles a sugar maple leaf of all the maple species in Canada, the leaf on the flag was specially designed to be as identifiable as possible on a flag waving in the wind without regard to whether it resembled a particular species' foliage.[14]


Sugar maple-yellow birch forest, Jacques-Cartier National Park, Quebec, Canada

The sugar maple is an extremely important species to the ecology of many forests in the northern United States and Canada. Pure stands are common, and it is a major component of the northern and Midwestern U.S. hardwood forests. Due to its need for cold winters, sugar maple is mostly found north of the 42nd parallel in USDA growing zones 3–5. It is less common in the southern part of its range (USDA Zone 6) where summers are hot and humid; there sugar maple is confined to ravines and moist flatlands. In the east, from Maryland southward, it is limited to the Appalachians. In the west, Tennessee represents the southern limit of its range and Missouri its southwestern limit. Collection of sap for sugar is also not possible in the southern part of sugar maple's range as winter temperatures do not become cold enough.

The minimum seed-bearing age of sugar maple is about 30 years. The tree is long-lived, typically 200 years and occasionally as much as 300.

Sugar maple is native to areas with cooler climates and requires a hard freeze each winter for proper dormancy. In northern parts of its range, January temperatures average about −18 °C (0 °F) and July temperatures about 16 °C (61 °F); in southern parts, January temperatures average about 10 °C (50 °F) and July temperatures average almost 27 °C (81 °F).[15] Seed germination also requires extremely low temperatures, the optimal being just slightly above freezing, and no other known tree species has this property. Germination of sugar maple seed in temperatures above 50 °F (10 °C) is rare to nonexistent.

Acer saccharum is among the most shade tolerant of large deciduous trees. Its shade tolerance is exceeded only by the striped maple, a smaller tree. Like other maples, its shade tolerance is manifested in its ability to germinate and persist under a closed canopy as an understory plant, and respond with rapid growth to the increased light formed by a gap in the canopy. Sugar maple can tolerate virtually any soil type short of pure sand, but does not tolerate xeric or swampy conditions.

Sugar maples are deeper-rooted than most maples and engage in hydraulic lift, drawing water from lower soil layers and exuding that water into upper, drier soil layers. This not only benefits the tree itself, but also many other plants growing around it.[16]

Sugar Maple terminal bud

Human influences have contributed to the decline of the sugar maple in many regions. Its role as a species of mature forests has led it to be replaced by more opportunistic species in areas where forests are cut over. The sugar maple also exhibits a greater susceptibility to pollution than other species of maple. Acid rain and soil acidification are some of the primary contributing factors to maple decline. Also, the increased use of salt over the last several decades on streets and roads for deicing purposes has decimated the sugar maple's role as a street tree.[17][18] The mushroom Pholiota squarrosoides is known to decay the logs of the tree.[19]

In some parts of New England, particularly near urbanized areas, the sugar maple is being displaced by the Norway maple. The Norway maple is also highly shade tolerant, but is considerably more tolerant of urban conditions, resulting in the sugar maple's replacement in those areas. In addition, Norway maple produces much larger crops of seeds, allowing it to out-compete native species.

Cultivation and uses

Maple syrup and other food use

Collecting sap from sugar maples

The sugar maple is one of the most important Canadian trees, being, with the black maple, the major source of sap for making maple syrup.[20] Other maple species can be used as a sap source for maple syrup, but some have lower sugar content and/or produce more cloudy syrup than these two.[20] In maple syrup production from Acer saccharum, the sap is extracted from the trees using a tap placed into a hole drilled through the phloem, just inside the bark. The collected sap is then boiled. As the sap boils, the water evaporates and the syrup is left behind. Forty gallons of maple sap produces 1 gallon of syrup. In the southern part of their range, sugar maples produce little sap; syrup production is dependent on the tree growing in cooler climates.[21]

The seeds can be soaked, and—with their wings removed—boiled, seasoned, and roasted to make them edible.[22] The young leaves and inner bark can be eaten raw or cooked.[23]


Ultra-thin sugar maple sections from Romeyn Beck Hough's American Woods. From top to bottom, the image displays transverse, radial and tangential sections. The adjacent image shows light passing through the specimens. Note, while the title of the image in the original book is "Acer Saccharinum", sugar maple is actually Acer saccharum. Acer saccharinum is a different species better known as silver leaf maple.

The sapwood can be white, and smaller logs may have a higher proportion of this desirable wood.[24] Bowling alleys and bowling pins are both commonly manufactured from sugar maple. Trees with wavy woodgrain, which can occur in curly, quilted, and "birdseye maple" forms, are especially valued. Maple is also the wood used for basketball courts, including the floors used by the NBA, and it is a popular wood for baseball bats, along with white ash. In recent years, because white ash has become threatened by emerald ash borer, sugar maple wood has increasingly displaced it for baseball bat production. It is also widely used in the manufacture of musical instruments, such as the members of the violin family (sides and back), guitars (neck), grand pianos (rim), and drum shells. It is also often used in the manufacture of sporting goods.[25][26]

Canadian maple, often referred to as "Canadian hardrock maple", is prized for pool cues, especially the shafts. Some production-line cues will use lower-quality maple wood with cosmetic issues, such as "sugar marks", which are most often light brown discolorations caused by sap in the wood. The best shaft wood has a very consistent grain, with no marks or discoloration. Sugar marks usually do not affect how the cue plays, but are not as high quality as those without it. The wood is also used in skateboards, gunstocks, and flooring for its strength.[25] Canadian hardrock maple is also used in the manufacture of electric guitar necks due to its high torsional stability and the bright, crisp resonant tone it produces. If the grain is curly, with flame or quilt patterns, it is usually reserved for more expensive instruments. In high-end guitars this wood is sometimes Torrefied to cook out the Lignin resins, allowing the greater stability to climate & environmental changes, and to enhance its tonal characteristics as the instrument's resonance is more evenly distributed across the cellulose structure of the wood without the lignin.

Urban planting

Sugar maple was a favorite street and park tree during the 19th century because it was easy to propagate and transplant, is fairly fast-growing, and has beautiful fall color. As noted above, however, it proved too delicate to continue in that role after the rise of automobile-induced pollution and was replaced by Norway maple and other hardier species. It is intolerant of road salt. The shade and the shallow, fibrous roots may interfere with grass growing under the trees. Deep, well-drained loam is the best rooting medium, although sugar maples can grow well on sandy soil which has a good buildup of humus. Light (or loose) clay soils are also well known to support sugar maple growth. Poorly drained areas are unsuitable, and the species is especially short-lived on flood-prone clay flats. Its salt tolerance is low and it is very sensitive to boron. The species is also subject to defoliation when there are dense populations of larvae of Lepidoptera species like the rosy maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda).[27]


  • 'Apollo' – columnar
  • 'Arrowhead' – pyramidal crown
  • 'Astis' ('Steeple') – heat-tolerant, good in southeastern USA, oval crown
  • 'Bonfire' – fast growing
  • 'Caddo' – naturally occurring southern ecotype or subspecies, from Southwestern Oklahoma, great drought and heat tolerance, good choice for the Great Plains region[28]
  • 'Columnare' ('Newton Sentry') – very narrow
  • 'Fall Fiesta' – tough-leaved, colorful in season, above-average hardiness
  • 'Goldspire' – columnar with yellow-orange fall color
  • 'Green Mountain' (PNI 0285) – durable foliage resists heat and drought, oval crown, above-average hardiness
  • 'Inferno' – possibly the hardiest cultivar, with more red fall color than 'Lord Selkirk' or 'Unity'
  • 'Legacy' – tough, vigorous and popular
  • 'Lord Selkirk' – very hardy, more upright than other northern cultivars
  • 'Monumentale' – columnar
  • 'September Flare' - very hardy, early orange-red fall color
  • 'Sweet Shadow' – lacy foliage
  • 'Temple's Upright' – almost as narrow as 'Columnare'
  • 'Unity' – very hardy, from Manitoba, slow steady growth

Use by Native Americans

The Mohegan use the inner bark as a cough remedy, and the sap as a sweetening agent, and to make maple syrup following the introduction of metal cookware by Europeans.[29]

Big trees

Comfort Maple in Pelham, Ontario

The national champion for Acer saccharum is located in Charlemont, Massachusetts. In 2007, the year it was submitted, it had a circumference of 5.92 metres (233 in; 19 ft 5 in) at 1.3 metres (4 ft 3 in) above the ground's surface, and thus a diameter at breast height of about 1.88 metres (6 ft 2 in). At that time the tree was 34.1 metres (111 ft 11 in) tall with an average crown spread of 27.7 metres (90 ft 11 in). Using the scoring system of circumference in inches plus height in feet plus 25% of crown spread in feet resulted in a total number of 368 points at the National Register of Big Trees.[30] A tree in Lyme, Connecticut, measured in 2012, had a circumference of 18 ft 3 in; 6 m, or an average diameter at breast height of about 5.8 feet (5 ft 10 in; 1.8 m). This tree had been 123 feet (37 m) tall with a crown spread of 86 feet (26 m), counting for a total number of 364 points.[31]

Leafless sugar maples in Vermont state quarter

The sugar maple is the state tree of the US states of New York, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

It is depicted on the state quarter of Vermont, issued in 2001.


  1. Barstow, M.; Crowley, D.; Rivers, M.C. (2017). "Acer saccharum". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2017: e.T193863A2287314. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-3.RLTS.T193863A2287314.en. Retrieved 6 November 2022.
  2. "Acer saccharum Marshall — The Plant List".
  3. "Acer saccharum". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  4. "Sugar Maple Tree Facts: Sugar Maple Tree Growing Information". Retrieved 29 June 2017.
  5. M.M. Grandtner (8 April 2005). Elsevier's Dictionary of Trees: Volume 1: North America. Elsevier. pp. 24–. ISBN 978-0-08-046018-5.
  6. Michigan State Horticultural Society (1900). Annual Report. Michigan State Horticultural Society. pp. 283–.
  7. Meier, Eric. "Hard Maple". The Wood Database. Retrieved 11 December 2020.
  8. "Acer saccharum". Northern Ontario Plant Database.
  9. "Acer saccharum". Oklahoma Biological Survey. Archived from the original on 9 November 2007. Retrieved 24 November 2007.
  10. "GSMNP tall trees". Retrieved 3 March 2011.
  11. Lawrence O. Copeland; M. B. McDonald (2001). Principles of seed science and technology. Springer. ISBN 978-0-7923-7322-3.
  12. "Norway Maple – New York Invasive Species Information". Retrieved 26 May 2020.
  13. "Invasive Species Identification Sheet - Norway Maple". Natural Resources Conservation Service Connecticut. Retrieved 26 May 2020.
  14. "The National Flag of Canada". Archived from the original on 23 April 2010. Retrieved 4 May 2013.
  15. Godman, Richard M.; Yawney, Harry W.; Tubbs, Carl H. (1990). "Acer saccharum". In Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H. (eds.). Hardwoods. Silvics of North America. Washington, D.C.: United States Forest Service (USFS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Vol. 2 via Southern Research Station.
  16. Emerman, Steven H.; Dawson, Todd E. (1996). "Hydraulic lift and its influence on the water content of the rhizosphere: an example from sugar maple, Acer saccharum". Oecologia. 108 (2): 273–278. Bibcode:1996Oecol.108..273E. doi:10.1007/BF00334651. PMID 28307839. S2CID 38275842.
  17. "Sugar Maple Faces Extinction Threat". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  18. Siek, Stephanie V. "Sugar Maples Fall Victim to Road Salt". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  19. Halama, Marek (January 2011). "First record of the rare species Pholiota squarrosoides (Agaricales, Strophariaceae) in southwestern Poland". Polish Botanical Journal. Retrieved 10 August 2019.
  20. Heilingmann, Randall B. "Hobby Maple Syrup Production (F-36-02)". Ohio State University. Archived from the original on 17 September 2002.
  21. "Sugar Maple: Nebraska Forest Service" (PDF). Nebraska Forest Service. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
  22. Elias, Thomas S.; Dykeman, Peter A. (2009) [1982]. Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods. New York: Sterling. pp. 125–26. ISBN 978-1-4027-6715-9. OCLC 244766414.
  23. Angier, Bradford (1974). Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books. p. 135. ISBN 0-8117-0616-8. OCLC 799792.
  24. Daniel L. Cassens. "Hard or sugar maple" (PDF). Purdue University:Purdue Extension.
  25. "Sugar Maple Plant Guide" (PDF). United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  26. Kaufman, David (8 October 2020). "Lenny Kravitz Designs a Showstopping Piano for Steinway & Sons". Architectural Digest.
  27. "Auburn University Entomology and Plant Pathology | Greenstriped Mapleworm". Auburn University Entomology and Plant Pathology. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  28. "Putting Down Roots: Landscape Guidelines for the Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Trees in Central Oklahoma". okPLANTtrees. 3.1.2:Medium Deciduous Trees. Archived from the original on 20 July 2012. Fortunately for Oklahoma, a subspecies (believed to be an ecotype) of the Sugar Maple was discovered in the southwest part of the state that is specifically adapted to our hot summers and drying winds.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  29. Tantaquidgeon, Gladys 1972 Folk Medicine of the Delaware and Related Algonkian Indians. Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Historical Commission Anthropological Papers No. 3 (p. 69, 128)
  30. "Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) - Champion Tree, National Forests, Massachusetts". 15 September 2016. Archived from the original on 31 January 2017. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  31. "Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) - Champion Tree, National Forests, Connecticut". 15 September 2016. Archived from the original on 31 January 2017. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  • Horton, J. L.; Hart, S.C. (1998). "Hydraulic lift: a potentially important ecosystem process". Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 13 (6): 232–235. doi:10.1016/S0169-5347(98)01328-7. PMID 21238277.
  • Canham, C. D. (1989). "Different Responses to Gaps Among Shade-Tolerant Tree Species". Ecology. 70 (3): 548–550. doi:10.2307/1940200. JSTOR 1940200.
  • Brisson, J., Bergeron, Y., Bouchard, A., & Leduc, A. (1994). Beech-maple dynamics in an old-growth forest in southern Quebec, Canada. Ecoscience (Sainte-Foy) 1 (1): 40–46.
  • Duchesne, L.; Ouimet, R.; Houle, D. (2002). "Basal Area Growth of Sugar Maple in Relation to Acid Deposition, Stand Health, and Soil Nutrients". Journal of Environmental Quality. 31 (5): 1676–1683. doi:10.2134/jeq2002.1676. PMID 12371186.

Further reading

This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.