- Acer, from the Latin for maple
- saccharum, from the Greek, sakcaron
(saccharon), "a sweet juice distilled from bamboo",
- Common name from the sweet sap used to make Maple Syrup
- Other common names include Hard Maple
, Rock Maple
- Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
- Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
- Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
- Subclass Rosidae, the Roses
- Order Sapindales
- Family Aceraceae, the Maples
- Taxonomic Serial Number: 28731
- Known to hybridize with Red Maple (Acer
- A large, native, deciduous forest tree, to 90' - 120' in height.
- Leaves simple, opposite, and palmate (the classic
mapleleaf) with 5 lobes (rarely 3) separated by rounded crotches and
broad, wavey toothed edges; 3½"-5½" long and
nearly as wide.
- Surface dark green and smooth, paler on underside,
and either smooth or hairy along the veins.
- Leafstalks to 3" long; can be hairy.
- Fall Color yellow to orange or deep red, generally
dropping just after seeds have fallen.
- Trunk relatively short, 30"-36" in
diameter, occasionally more
- Branches numerous and spreading, forming a large,
- Twigs slender, smooth, and shiny; reddish-brown,
with obvious lenticels on younger portions.
- Buds ¼" long; conical with a pointed
tip and numerous scales. Smooth or slightly hairy and reddish-brown
to grey with scattered whitish lenticels.
- Bark light grey to grey-brown and relatively
thick, becoming deeply furrowed and rough with age.
- Roots relatively deep, with many extensively-branched
- Flowers monoecious or dioecious. Male and female
flowers borne separately, sometimes on different trees. Drooping, yellowish
green, tassel-like clusters of 8-14 flowers appear in early spring when
leaves begin to unfold.
- Fruit a paired, papery-winged samara, yellow or
green, sometimes brownish, and about 1" long. The two halves of
the samara are nearly parallel.
- Sugar maple is long-lived and plants can survive for 300 to 400 years.
- Manitoba to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, south through Minnesota,
and eastern Kansas into northeastern Texas. It extends eastward to Georgia
and northward through the Appalachian Mountains into New England
- Most commonly rich, mesic woods but also drier upland woods. It grows
in level areas or in coves and other sheltered locations on adjacent
lower slopes. Often associated with stream terraces, streambanks, valleys,
canyons, ravines, and wooded natural levees; occasionally found on dry
rocky hillsides. At the western edge of its range, grows as scattered
canopy seed trees or as abundant seedlings in protected ravines and
relatively mesic north-facing slopes.
- A prominent component of mesic hardwood forests, Great Lakes pine
forests, spruce-fir forests, and northern hardwood forests. Forms pure
stands but also grows mixed with other hardwoods and scattered conifers.
- Can grow on a wide variety of soils, but typically does best on deep,
moist, fertile, well-drained soils. It grows on sand, loamy sand, sandy
loam, silty loam, and loam. Commonly associated with alluvial or calcareous
soils it will also grows on stabilized dunes. Intolerant of flooded
soils, it generally grows poorly on dry, shallow soils. Occurs on strongly
acidic (pH=3.7) to slightly alkaline (pH=7.3) soils but grows best where
soil pH ranges from 5.5 to 7.3. Soils are derived from a variety of
parent materials including shale, limestone, and sandstone.
- Very tolerant of shade and can persist for long periods beneath a
dense forest canopy. It is noted for its ability to quickly occupy gaps
created in the forest canopy. A bank of abundant seedlings remains suppressed
until gaps are created by windfall or other disturbances. Seedlings
and saplings typically respond vigorously and rapidly to release and
can overtop competitors such as northern red oak. Openings or gaps in
the canopy allow more nutrients, light, and water to become available.
In many areas, sugar maple is a dominant species in gaps created by
dying American elms.
- Generally regarded as a late seral or climax species in many eastern
deciduous forests. Throughout much of the Upper Midwest, sugar maple
codominates climax stands with American basswood, or yellow birch. In
the absence of disturbance, forests composed of jack pine, eastern white
pine, eastern hemlock, yellow birch, or red pine are replaced by sugar
maple and American basswood. However, it should be noted that disturbances,
particularly fire, were common in eastern deciduous forests in presettlement
times. In some locations, succession to sugar maple-American basswood
stands may have taken as long as 650 years.
- Sugar maple typically increases in the absence of fire. Seedlings
occasionally sprout, but postfire establishment occurs primarily through
an abundance of wind-dispersed seed.
- Shade-tolerant species, such as sugar maple, commonly assume dominance
in the absence of fire in Great Lake's hardwood forests. Where fire
frequencies are high, aspen and paper birch (Betula
papiryfera) are common dominants. In presettlement times, sugar
maple was typically absent from portions of the North Woods which burned
at frequent intervals.
- Sugar maple is sensitive to fire. The thin bark is easily damaged
by even light ground fires. Curtis reported that "cambial injury
occurs even in trees that show little external damage." Large trees
occasionally survive light fires and may exhibit visible fire scars.
Hot fires can kill existing regeneration.
- Commonly occurs in mesic closed canopy forests that are relatively
resistant to ground fires, particularly during the winter and spring
when litter is usually moist. In the summer, flammable litter (generally
deciduous leaves) is often scarce or absent. Greatest fire hazard occurs
in dry years during October, after the leaves have fallen. Fires which
occur during this time period are occasionally severe and can kill the
- Sprouts poorly after fire. Mature trees that have been top-killed
by fire do not sprout, small saplings occasionally sucker. Although
sprouting is common in young sugar maples following mechanical disturbances,
it is relatively uncommon after fire. Sugar maple reestablishes through
seedling sprouts and seedlings.
- Trees: American Basswood, Yellow Birch (Betula
alleghaniensis), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), White
Spruce (Picea glauca), beech,
White Pine (Pinus strobus), Eastern
Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), Northern Red Oak (Quercus
rubra), white oak (Q. alba)
- Shrubs: Beaked Hazel (Corylus
cornuta), Atlantic leatherwood (Dirca palustris),
Redberry Elder (Sambucus pubens),
Alternate-leaf Dogwood (Cornus
alternifolia), Dwarf Bush-Honeysuckle (Diervilla
lonicera), Canada Yew (Taxus
canadensis), Red Raspberry (Rubus
idaeus), and Blackberries (Rubus spp.).
- Herbs: Springbeauty (Claytonia caroliniana),
Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), Anemone (Anemone
spp.) Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata), Downy Yellow Violet
(Viola pubescens), Solomons-seal (Polygonatum pubescens),
False Solomons-seal (Smilacina stellata), Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza
spp.), Adderstongue (Ophioglossom
vulgatum), Jack-in-the Pulpit (Arisaema atrorubens),
clubmosses (Lycopodium spp.), and Largeleaf Aster (Aster
- Mammals: Sugar maple is commonly browsed by white-tailed
deer, moose, and snowshoe hare. The red squirrel, gray squirrel, and
flying squirrels feed on the seeds, buds, twigs, and leaves of sugar
maple. The porcupine consumes the bark and can, in some instances, girdle
the upper stem.
- Birds: Numerous species of songbirds nest in sugar
maple. Cavity nesters such as the black-capped chickadee excavate nest
cavities or utilize preexisting cavities. The common flicker, pileated
woodpecker, and screech owl also nest in maples
- During the last Ice Age retreated with other hardwoods to the relative
shelter of the lower Mississippi Valley, moving north after the pioneering
conifers as the ice sheets melted.
- State Tree of West Virginia and Wisconsin.
- Wood Characteristics
- Tough, strong, durable, and hard as oak.
- Heavy at 44 pounds per cubic foot, with a specific gravity of
- Generally straight grained but famous for curly or wavy figure
(tiger maple, birdseye maple, and curly maple, for example).
- Sapwood is white to pinkish-white in color, changing abruptly
to the pinkish-brown heartwood.
- Accepts all finishes very well.
- Wood Uses
- Commonly used to make furniture, paneling, flooring, and veneers.
- Also where durability is important, such as gunstocks, tool handles,
cutting blocks, sporting goods, bowling pins
- Musical instruments.
- Landscape Uses
- Widely planted as a shade tree and an ornamental. Its leaves turn
vivid shades of yellow and red in the fall.
- Other Uses
- Primary source of maple sugar and syrup. Maple sugar and syrup
were used as trade items by many Native American peoples.
- Seed: Sugar maple possesses extremely effective outbreeding mechanisms,
and flowers are readily wind pollinated. Minimum seed-bearing age is
30 to 40 years. Forty- to sixty-year-old trees with 8" d.b.h. produce
light crops, whereas 70- to 100-year-old trees with d.b.h. of 10"-14"
produce moderate seed crops. Large fluctuations in annual seed crops
have been reported. Seed production is partly dependent on genetic factors,
and some trees produce an abundance of flowers nearly every year.
- Seed is primarily dispersed by wind, which can carry the relatively
large seeds for up to 330'. However, most seeds do not travel more than
50' from the forest edge. Some seed may also be dispersed by water.
- Few seeds persist in the seed bank for more than 1 year, and sugar
maple is not considered an important seed banker.
- Vegetative regeneration
- a prolific sprouter in the northern part of its range, but at
the southern edge of its range, it sprouts less vigorously than
- Stump-sprouting and root-sprouting are moderately common.
- Layering occasionally occurs.
- Growth initiation of sugar maple varies geographically. Flower buds
generally begin to swell prior to the development of vegetative buds
and generally emerge 1 to 2 weeks before the leaves appear. Male and
female flowers mature at slightly different rates, which promotes cross-pollination.
Fruit ripens approximately 12 to 16 weeks after the flowers appear.
Fruit begins to fall approximately 2 weeks after ripening.
- Most commonly by seed, it can also be propagated vegetatively by budding,
grafting, air-layering, or by rooting stem cuttings.
- Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
- Cultural Requirements
- Full sun to part shade; shade tolerant
- Prefers fertile, slightly acidic soil.
- pH 3.7 - 7.3
- Medium wet, well-drained soil
- Size 30'-60'W x 40'-80'H
- Growth rate slow
- Excellent specimen tree for the lawn or parks. May be used as a street
tree as long as it can be located on a street and in a location where
road salt, soil compaction and pollution will not be significant problems.
- Cultivars and species available by mail order from specialty suppliers
or at local nurseries.
- Damage: Susceptible to wind damage and to damage
caused by ice storms and winter freezes. De-icing salts often damage
sugar maples which grow along roadways. Individuals within the overstory
are susceptible to air pollutants such as sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides,
chlorides, and fluorides. Sugar maple is susceptible to logging injuries
which frequently permit the entrance of decay.
- Insects/disease: Host to numerous insects including
bud miners, aphids, borers, and defoliators such as the gypsy moth,
tent caterpillar, linden looper, and cankerworms. Cankers, root rot
(Armillaria spp.), and verticillium wilt also affect sugar
maple. Leaf scorch may be a problem in drought conditions. Has been
frequently used as a street tree, but is generally intolerant of road
salt, soil compaction and pollution. Since the early 1900's, this species
has been periodically affected by a condition known as maple decline.
Increases in die-back have been observed in many parts of the Northeast
since 1982. Causes of maple decline are unknown, but acid rain and other
pollutants are possible contributors. Trees already weakened by pollutants
may be increasingly susceptible to root rot and tent caterpillar infestations.
Maple decline may be accentuated by a series of unusual climatic events;
large diameter trees are most susceptible.
Last updated on
4 March, 2006