Sugar Maple – Acer saccharum

Sugar Maple – Acer saccharum
Family Aceraceae. 
Height: 60-70'
Spread: 40-50' / Form: Upright oval to
rounded / Growth Rate: Slow / Zone: 4-8

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In my humble opinion, the Sugar Maple is the king of showy autumn foliage; its brilliant yellow to orange-red foliage simply screams, especially in direct sunlight. Sometimes called hard maple or rock maple, this is one of the largest and most important of our North American hardwoods. Sugar Maple grows on approximately 31 million acres (about 9%) of the hardwood forests in Midwest and northeast North America. The greatest commercial saw timber volumes are presently harvested in Michigan, New York, Maine, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. In most regions, both the saw timber and growing stock volumes are increasing, with increased production of saw logs, pulpwood, and more recently, firewood.

Sugar Maple Tree
Mature Sugar Maple is 30 years old [1]

Sugar maple grows only in regions with relatively with cool, moist climates. They grow best with ranges in temperature from -40° F. in the north to 100° F. in the southwestern areas. Occasional extremes may be more than 20° F. lower or higher than these. It is expected the current man-made rise in global temperature will be deleterious to the species. Rainfall requirements are between about 20 inches and 100 inches. It is not known how global climate change will affect rainfall, although the vast majority of scientific data suggest there will be an increase in short and long-term droughts in areas previously unafflicted thus. The dramatic increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels due to man's burning of fossil fuels may benefit the trees, however.

The fruit of the sugar maple, called a samara, is a double-winged, papery seed-bearing fruit, commonly called a "helicopter" or "whirlybird." The aerodynamic properties allow the seeds to be dispersed, in a fresh breeze, more than 100 meters (330 feet) from the parent tree. A mature sugar maple can produce between 3,000 and 9,000 pounds of seeds each season [2].


The sugar maple tree is the principal source of maple sugar. Trees are tapped early in the spring for the first flow of sap, which usually has the highest sugar content. The sap is collected and boiled or evaporated to a syrup. Further concentration by evaporation produces the maple sugar. Sugar maple sap averages about 2.5 percent sugar; about 129 liters (34 gal) of sap to make 3.8 liters (1 gal) of syrup or 3.6 kg (8 lb) of sugar.

Sugar maple is rated as very tolerant of shade, exceeded among hardwoods only by a few smaller, shorter lived species. In large trees, only American beech (Fagus grandifolia) equals it in tolerance under forest conditions. Except for bud losses, sugar maple is not highly susceptible to insect injury and serious outbreaks are not common. The most common insects to attack sugar maple are defoliators and these include the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), forest tent caterpillar, linden looper, striped mapleworm, maple leaf-cutter, and saddled prominent moth [2].

Sugar Maple - Acer saccharum
Sugar Maple Autumn Colors

Borers that attack sugar maple include the carpenterworm (Prionoxystus robiniae), sugar maple borer (Glycobius speciosus), maple callus borer, Synanthedon acerni, and occasionally horntails (Xiphydria abdominalis and X. maculata). Sucking insects that affect sugar maple include the woolly alder aphid (Prociphilus tesselatus) and other aphid species (Neoprociphilus aceris and Periphyllus lyropictus) which injure leaves and reduce growth. Of the scale insects, the maple phenacoccus (Phenacoccus acericola), is the most important to sugar maple. The maple leaf scale (Pulvinaria acericola) and the gloomy scale (Melanaspis tenebricosa) also frequently attack sugar maple.

Sugar maple can be severely damaged from deicing road salt. In an industrial area the number of overstory sugar maples was markedly reduced from exposure to sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, chlorides, and fluorides. Numerous animals feed on or injure sugar maple without serious effect except in local and limited situations. Deer browsing is probably the most common wildlife factor. Red, grey, and flying squirrels sometimes gnaw or feed on the seed, buds, foliage, and twigs of sugar maple. In rare instances, they have killed larger branches and tree tops. Porcupines eat the bark and kill by girdling the upper stem [2].

See also: Temple's Upright and Green Mountain Sugar Maples

1. Sugar Maples, Morton Arboretum acc 258-78-1, photos by Bruce Marlin
2. Richard Godman, Harry Yawney, and Carl Tubbs, USDA Forest Service Silvics Manual, 'Sugar Maple'
3. North American Insects & Spiders, 'Acorn Weevil, Curculio sp.'
Tree Encyclopedia / North American Insects & Spiders is dedicated to providing scientific and educational resources for our users through use of large images and macro photographs of flora and fauna.

Family Aceraceae – Maples
The Maples are some of our most familiar and beloved trees.  Most are native to the far east: China, Japan, Korea, Manchuria. Maples produce a distinctive winged fruit called a samara, also commonly known as helicopters or whirlybirds.
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