AgEBB-MU CAFNR Extension

Green Horizons

Volume 22, Number 2
Spring 2018


Species Spotlight: Sugar Maple

By Hank Stelzer| MU Extension, School of Natural Resources

Species Spotlight: Sugar Maple

Hank Stelzer, MU Extension, School of Natural Resources

Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is a deciduous Missouri native tree which will typically grow 40-80' tall with a dense, rounded crown. Acer is the Latin name for a maple tree and saccharum means sugary in reference to the sweet sap. As a side note, Saccharum is the genus name for sugarcane. This tree is a main component of the Eastern U.S. hardwood forest and is one of the trees which is most responsible for giving New England its reputation for spectacular fall color.

Leaves: Medium green leaves; 3-6" wide with 3-5 lobes; turn yellow-orange in autumn, sometimes with considerable color variations.

Flowers: Quite small, borne abundantly in clusters, each at the end of a long dangling flower stalk (pedicel). All these parts are light yellow-green, presenting a very bright display that stands out, but with little apparent detail, so might be mistaken for leaf-out, which hasn't happened yet (branch/leaf buds are just breaking when the bloom is in full force).

Fruit: A two-winged, horseshoe-shaped samara about 1" long, appearing in clusters, brown when mature in in the fall.

Twigs: Brown, slender and shiny with lighter lenticels; terminal buds brown, very sharp pointed, with tight scales.

Bark: Variable, but generally brown, on older trees it becomes darker, develops furrows, with long, thick irregular curling outward, firm ridges.

Wood: Straight-grained, fine-textured, hard, strong, and at 44 pounds per cubic foot (as heavy as red oak) the wood of sugar maple has high commercial value. Its sapwood, frequently 3-5" thick, appears much lighter in color than the slightly pinkish-tan heartwood. Some trees produce spectacularly figured wood in curly, fiddleback, quilt, and bird's eye.

Known for its toughness and durability, sugar maple takes a pounding as bowling-lane surfaces, bowling pins, basketball courts, school desks, tool handles, and ladder rungs. On a gentler side, it makes up for much of the furniture we call "Early American." The wood also shows up as cabinets, countertops, cutting boards and butcher block. Trees with wavy woodgrain, which can occur in curly, quilted, and "birdseye maple" forms, are especially valued by wood turners. It is also widely used in the manufacture of musical instruments, such as the members of the violin family (sides and back), guitars (neck), and drum shells.

Pests: The species has no serious insect or disease problems... yet. However, it is susceptible to verticillium wilt, anthracnose, cankers, leaf spot and tar spot. Sugar maple is also susceptible to aphids, borers and scale. Leaf scorch may be a problem in drought conditions. Forest managers are keeping a watchful eye out for the Asian Longhorned Beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis, or ALB). This exotic, invasive insect threatens not only sugar maple, but a whole host of other hardwood tree species. It currently infests areas in Massachusetts, New York and Ohio.

The leaf, twig, fruit and bark of sugar maple (Acer saccharum

Back to Green Horizons