A deciduous tree from the Maple Family (Aceraceae)
Growth Rate: Slow
Mature Spread: 40'
Mature Height: 80'
Shape: Upright oval
Sunlight: Full to part sun
Soil Type: Rich, moderately deep, even moisture, good drainage
Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) is a favorite shade tree with reliable fall color, found in the forests and meadows throughout all of Ohio, but flourishing in the cooler climates and more acidic soils of northeastern Ohio and Appalachia. It is valued for its hard, dense, fine-grained and difficult-to-split wood, which is utilized for floors, furniture, veneer, musical instruments, and railroad ties. The hardness of the wood gives it the alternative common name of Rock Maple.
Native Americans invented the process of maple sap collection and its distillation into maple sugar and maple syrup. A native of southern Canada, the greater Midwest, and the Northeastern United States, a Sugar Maple tree found in the open may easily grow to 80 feet tall by 40 feet wide. As a member of the Maple Family, it is related to all other species of Maple.
Sugar Maple thrives when it is planted or transplanted into rich, moderately deep soils having even moisture coupled with good drainage. While it prefers acidic soils, it adapts readily to those of neutral or alkaline pH. Clay soils cause it to struggle more in terms of root penetration to tap into deep soil moisture in times of drought.
The key to the preservation of established Sugar Maples is to not disturb the roots by extensive digging, or compact the soil above them with heavy equipment or vehicles, or a serious decline in tree health will likely occur. Sugar Maple adapts to shady conditions in its youth, but must eventually grow in full sun to partial sun, and is found in zones 4 to 8.
Sugar Maple does not perform nearly as well in the southern limits of its range (zones 7 and 8), where the heat, humidity, and drought of summer take their toll. More commonly, encroachment of construction traffic and the associated soil compaction, soil grade change, root disturbance, and various pollutions associated with housing construction and subsequent urban conditions do not favor established Sugar Maples, and they often respond with a rapid decline or death when their forest is converted into a subdivision.
Sugar Maple also does not like being transplanted into heavy clay soils or to long periods of drought in summer. Verticillium wilt is an occasional disease primarily occurring in wet springs, and leaf scorch is a perennial problem when drought occurs.
Leaves of Sugar Maple are opposite, have a fairly long petiole, and have five lobes, each lobe of which is sparsely incised or toothed. The bottom two lobes (one on either side of the petiole) are the smallest. The dark green leaves have medium green undersides. Fall color is highly variable but usually outstanding, and a given tree may go through a sequence of colors from top to bottom as the autumn progresses. Sugar Maple may have yellow, orange, or red fall color, or may have all of these plus green at the same time in its autumn canopy.
The long-pediceled flowers of Sugar Maple may be male, female, or perfect, with all occurring on the same tree, thus making this species polygamomonoecious. Their lime-green appearance in early spring (just before foliage emergence) gives the entire tree a wispy look, especially in the breeze.
The paired samaras that result from spring fertilization hang downward in clusters throughout the summer and mature in autumn, and may serve as a source of food for birds and mammals.
Buds of Sugar Maple are very small, composed of tightly overlapping scales that are dark brown to near-black in color.
Twigs are light brown to gray, and give rise to ascending branches that are fairly smooth when young but take on fissures with age, resulting in flared vertical plates that give Sugar Maple a rough bark at maturity.
Sugar Maple sap rises from sometime in January through April, when the trees may be tapped for the gathering of syrup in buckets. However, sapsuckers often drill holes in the bark and cambium during this time also, feeding on insects that seek out the natural source of sugar and water, as well as feeding on the watery syrup itself.
With increasing age, the bark of Sugar Maple is highly variable in color (brown, gray, or near black, often with an orange interior bark) and appearance (flared vertical plates, semi-ridged, or with overlapping shingles).