Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum
Sugar maple leaves have a “U” shaped notch between leaf lobes, different from more angled notches of other maples. The signature maple leaf shape is well-known, but can you identify this tree without the leaves? In winter, look for very light brown twigs, pointy buds, and smooth grayish bark. In summer, enjoy lush foliage and cool shade. In fall, be sure to gaze at the brilliant red blaze, and in spring, look for tapped trees and keep your tastebuds piqued for a sweet treat!
Most sugar maple trees live in the east of the Mississippi River, but some live as far west as Minnesota and Missouri. They can reach heights of 115ft, and if exceptionally healthy, can live up to 400 years. Many of us know sugar maples for the sweet sap that makes maple syrup. Native Americans were the first to harvest this sap before the process was known around the world and popularized into the springtime tradition celebrated today.
While maple syrup is used globally, it is produced in just a small part of North America, because the process depends on spring temperatures that fluctuate above and below freezing. Until the 1950-60s, most maple syrup came from the United States but rising temperatures, shorter winters, and earlier springs are causing the sugar-making processes within the trees to occur earlier and decrease production by as much as 40%. In recent decades, the climate range which favors syrup production is shifting north, allowing Canada to become the primary producer of the sweet breakfast topping.
With these natural factors in the mix, maple syrup farmers are trying hard to work with what sugar maples are giving them, though some claim that recent technological advances and changes to the tapping process are helping. Innovations like this show that, even in a warming world, “sticky” situations like this may be adapted to.
Did you know that the sugar maple is also Wisconsin’s state tree? Think about how migrating species and shifting ecotones may eventually affect the culture, traditions, recreation, and economy of a region.