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Written by: Christina Myrdal

 

Known for its sweet sap and brightly coloured leaves in the fall, Sugar Maple is an abundant and ecologically unique species in the hardwood forests of eastern North America.

 

Sugar Maple is a relatively slow-growing, large shade tree that can grow in a variety of habitats, from forest/woodland to meadows and savannahs. This species is fairly sensitive to pollution, drought and salt, and grows best where soil water is abundant to facilitate sap production.

 

Sugar Maple leaves are palmate with five lobes and its flowers are yellowish-green, long-stalked dropping clusters. It can often be confused for Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), a non-native species, however Norway Maple has white sap which can be observed by pulling a leaf off at the petiole.  Here are some additional facts about Sugar Maple:

  • Form: Tree (deciduous)
  • Size: 20-35 m tall
  • Sun/Shade: Full sun to full shade
  • Soil: Sand, Loam, Humus enriched
  • Habitat: Forest, Woodland, Savannah, Forest Edge, Prairie/Meadow/Field, Riparian
  • Canadian Distribution: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island (see map)

 

Sugar Maple

(Acer saccharum)

 

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Sugar Maple is unique in that it requires cold winter temperatures, well below freezing, for proper dormancy. It also requires a very low temperature to initiate seed germination, approximately 1°C on average, which is the lowest of any other forest species. Its requirement for cold winters and warm summers is why it is so prevalent in eastern Canada and the northeastern US. Warming temperatures in recent years due to climate change are threatening more southern distribution of Sugar Maple that rely on these cold winters, which over time may lead to a northern shift in its geographical range.   This could potentially have devastating economic impacts to the US maple syrup industry.

 

Sugar Maple has always been an important economic asset to Canada, with Quebec and Ontario being two of the largest maple syrup producers worldwide. During the 2019 season, Quebec alone harvested 12 million gallons of syrup (that’s about 480 million gallons of sap!) It is no wonder why Canada is world-renowned for our maple products.

 

If you live in Ontario, you may be interested to know that you can find the oldest known Sugar Maple in Pelham (Niagara Region) at Comfort Maple Conservation Area. The trunk is a whopping 6 metres in diameter, and it is estimated to be between 400 and 500 years old!

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