Sugar Maple

Acer Saccharum

by John Brouwer

Sugar maple is the quintessential Canadian tree. A sugar maple leaf adorns our flag and "sugaring" is part of Canada's history and culture. Canada produces around 80% of the world's maple syrup with most of the balance produced in Vermont and New York states. Sugar maple is a large component of the fall colour display providing gorgeous arrays of yellow, orange and red. Sugar maple was designated as Canada's national tree in 1965.

Sugar maple is native to the Carolinian forest and northern forests extending beyond Sudbury and Wawa. It grows to over 100 feet, can live 300-400 years in the Carolinian forests, and is often part of the climax tree canopy as sugar maples can germinate and grow under their own shade.

The sweet sap is produced as the tree converts starches into sugars during the winter months. The enzymes involved in this starch conversion are active at low temperatures. Maple sap averages about 2% sucrose. Each tree is tapped for 5 to 15 gallons of sap. It takes 43 gallons of 2% sap to create 1 gallon of syrup. Proper tapping can be done on an annual basis without affecting the health of the tree.

Sugar maple is also known as hard maple in the furniture trade. It is a very valuable as furniture and flooring wood. Most bowling alleys were made of maple.

Hard maple has a very high heat content making it a prized as firewood since a little goes a long way in fire places and wood furnaces.

Sugar Maple dieback has affected large areas of maples in Quebec and Ontario since the 1980's. Air pollution is cited as a major contributor as acid rain interferes with the nutrient exchange in the soil and over stresses the trees during drought, insect infestations, and mild winters which include too much freezing and thawing. Woodlot owners can compensate by ensuring that all environmental stresses are minimized.

A sugar grove is being planted in the naturalization area between Block 2 and Pine Ridge Road. About 35 seedlings from an abandoned field were transplanted here last fall. This spring we also expect to receive more seedlings from the Grand River Conservation Authority. The sumac growing beyond the fenced areas mimics the shade found in the mature forest allowing the seedlings to develop until they can withstand full sun. Careful management will be required until the trees are big enough to over shadow and out compete the grasses and weeds. The burlap sacking around each seedling is designed to smother the surrounding grass and conserve water and nutrients for the seedling until its canopy and root system can compete with the grasses.

As natural sugar maple groves are diverse, native nut trees, walnuts, hickory and butternut as well as some other associated native trees will be interspersed to provide diversity.

Since it takes about 40 years for a maple to be ready for tapping not many of us will be around to test the process. However with a life-span of 300 to 400 years the trees may be available for many reincarnations. As good quality furniture wood becomes scarcer, the price of logs is likely to escalate way beyond the current several thousand dollars. If this value continues, the maples may become an income stream which will allow a future co-op generation to selectively harvest the trees to pay co-op maintenance or even start new initiatives.

"The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now."

December 2007