It would be hard to find anyone who does not like maple syrup, the beauty of maple wood graces many of our home furnishings and of all the fall foliage, maple trees produce the brightest display. What we know about maples makes us love them, but what we do not know may surprise and interest us.
There are over 140 species of maple worldwide, including both the genera Acer and Dipteronia--both of which are in the Aceraceae family. Maples are mostly large, wide spreading and attractive trees, generally recognized by their three to five lobed leaves and winged fruits. Though all are flowering plants, most of the flowers are so inconspicuous as to be virtually invisible to the untrained eye. The red maple (Acer rubrum) is one of the few maples with conspicuous flowers.
Maples grow in many parts of the world, as well as in the United States and Canada, and while some species, such as the southern sugar maple (Acer barbatum) thrive in southern climates, the majority of Acer species prefer the cooler temperate areas above U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zone 7. The sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is used in the production of maple sugar, and it is farmed in the New England states (though they are native to every state east of the Mississippi River and north of the Tennessee-Alabama border).
Cultivation and Care
The maple family is large and encompasses a variety of soil preferences. In general, however, maples prefer a loamy or sandy loam soil with a neutral pH, though they will tolerate a broad range of soil types, including clay soils, and pH from extremely acid to alkaline. Maples prefer moist but well-drained soil, with plenty of organic matter. Since maples grow in mixed hardwood forests, they are capable of tolerating partial shade.
Products and Uses
The sugar maple is probably the most recognized of the maple species, renowned for its fall color as much as for sugar, but other species are valuable as ornamentals and for wood. The Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), a slow growing and compact tree with many commercially available cultivars, is particularly used as an ornamental for small gardens. Wood veneers for many fine musical instruments and furniture come from bird's-eye maple--which is not a maple species but rather a condition within the tree, which causes divergent and interesting grain patterns.
As reported by Olkkola Farm, it takes between 30 and 50 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of maple sugar, and since one mature tree produces only about 10 gallons of sap per season, it takes three to five trees to make that single gallon. According to the USDA Plant Database, three maples--the arum maple (Acer ginnala), Norway maple (A. platanoides) and the sycamore maple (A. psuedoplatanus) are noxious weeds in this country and Canada. The trident maple (Acer buergeranum) is a popular tree with bonsai enthusiasts. Five states list maples as the official state tree--four of them, the sugar maple.