About a year ago, I started a paper, which attempts to describe all the trees found in New Hampshire, my home state. I started this project as a school project, where I would just observe trees and their habitats and write what I saw, but it quickly morphed into an informal research paper focused on silvics and commercial uses of the described species. I have enjoyed the writing, and now wish to share my work with some other people, which is why I have decided to post one tree a week onto this blog site.
While reading, keep a few things in mind. Firstly, I am not a professional forester. I have been working on this as a high school life-sciences project so there are bound to be some places where my information is incomplete. If you have anything to add, or notice a mistake in my writing, please comment; I, and likely anyone else who reads this, would greatly appreciate the added knowledge. Secondly, I have neglected in-text citations, but links to my research can always be found by scrolling to the end of the post. The silvics information for this paper comes almost exclusively from the United States Silvics Manual (available online at this link: https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/misc/ag_654/table_of_contents.htm), which I have used as a starting point for further research, generally including information on commercial uses, ecological or social benefits, and sometimes pests. Thirdly, while some posts do include information on how to identify the species in question, I eventually considered this information redundant since it is available in many places online, and I was already linking to a YouTube series put out by SUNY-ESF professor, Don Leopold, which is the best free introductory tree I.D. course I have found. There are also several archived webinars on the ForestConnect channel that are worth looking at, if you want to know how to identify common Northeastern trees. Finally, I have titled this series Common Trees of New Hampshire and the North Woods because that is where I live and can observe trees most commonly. However, I haven’t specifically limited this project to a certain geographical area. I am a Florida boy by birth, so I may include some trees from the South, just for fun, and if any of you have a specific tree you would like to see on this series, please use the comments, and I will make it my next project.
I hope you enjoy reading,
Sugar maple is one of the most iconic trees of the Northeast, though it also grows extensively in the Midwest and is present in lesser quantities in the southern Appalachians and, at low elevations, as far south as central Tennessee. It is nearly identical to the black maple (Acer nigrum) found throughout the Midwest and in parts of New York State, and is quite similar to the Florida maple (Acer barbatum) found in parts of the South. Identifying sugar maple is quite easy, even when one takes into account the several other maple species that grow within its range. The most distinctive features of the tree are its leaves, which are the five-lobed shape so often associated with the genus, Acer. The leaves also are non-serrate around the edges, but can still be confused with red maple when the trees are young. When in doubt, look for the veins that start at the base of the leaf. Red maple should only have three, while sugar maple will always have five veins, even if the first and fifth lobes are poorly developed. When leaves are absent, sugar maple can be identified by its bark, which breaks into long plates that peel from the sides, and by its buds which are long and pointed and have an orange color. While identifying trees by bark is more difficult than leaves, it is also more accurate and, of course, is the only way to identify a tree when it is shipped to you in log form.
Sugar maple is almost exclusively a cold-climate tree and can grow in areas with an average annual temperature as low as 35 degrees Fahrenheit. It also requires abundant moisture, especially as you reach the southern end of its range, which is why it reaches its highest potential for commercial growth in the mixed hardwood forests of the Northeast, roughly from central Pennsylvania to central Maine, where precipitation averages about 50 inches a year. Despite its general requirements for the cool, moist environment of the temperate forest, sugar maple is adept at handling extremes in temperature. It has been known to survive temperatures as low as -40 degrees and as high as 100 degrees, but, depending on individual tree and site conditions, may be able to handle temperatures twenty degrees beyond either side of this range. In New Hampshire, at the northeastern edge of its commercial range, sugar maple is typically found below 2,500 feet and is a major component of forests in the northern half of the state, typically found with American beech and yellow birch, as well as scattered specimens of other hardwoods depending on site. The soils preferred by sugar maple range from sand to silt-loam with a pH of 3.5-7.3 (pH lowered over time by leaf accumulation), but are all moist and well-drained. It generally does not do well on exceptionally dry soils, where pines and oaks tend to dominate, and is seldom if ever found in swamps, unlike its relative the red maple (also known as “swamp maple” in parts of the South).
Sugar maple seeds are winged and can be blown as far as 330 feet from the parent tree before landing. They prefer temperatures of 34 degrees Fahrenheit (the lowest of any known forest species) to germinate, and can actually be killed by early thaws. Once seeds germinate, they are very tolerant of shade, only being matched among hardwoods by the competing American beech tree, and exceeded by a few understory trees such as striped maple. Sugar maple grows best as seedlings with 65% full sunlight, but can tolerate a shade range of 30-90% of full sun. It copes with the low levels of light by largely limiting its growth to the spring, when the overstory trees are still bare of leaves. In seedlings, as much as 90% of annual growth occurs during the first 18-24 days of the growing season (early to mid-May in the White Mountains), and sapling and pole trees are largely finished growing during the first five weeks of the growing season. Sugar maple is a very slow growing tree, only averaging one inch of diameter growth per decade once it has reached sawlog size (>10 inches). In younger trees, growth is quicker, but a 6 inch tree will still probably be over eighteen years old (according to a formula in page 3 of this document: https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/jrnl/1999/ne_1999_kenefic_001.pdf). Because of the slow growth of sugar maple, an individual tree is likely to experience numerous disturbances throughout its life. In a managed stand, logging is a common one, and equipment used to remove crop trees can easily break young seedlings that will provide the “advance regeneration” for the next forest. In the case of sugar maple, seedlings will readily sprout back from the stump and quickly regain their original size. Even larger trees will occasionally sprout, usually producing multiple shoots per stump, but it becomes less and less common as the tree gets older. The maximum age of sugar maple is well over 350 years, and there are examples of trees that are suspected to be over 500 years old. The largest sugar maple in New Hampshire is located next to a farmhouse in the Seacoast Region town of Exeter and is 102 feet tall with a crown diameter of 19 feet and is suspected to be 238 years old (having been planted in 1780).
Part of the amazing longevity of these trees is caused by their hardiness against insects and fungal diseases. Very few natural pests will kill sugar maple, though several insects and fungal diseases can lower the timber value of individual trees. Logging scars can provide entry points for several fungi causing root rot and similar ailments. There are certain insects that will overwinter in, or eat, the buds of sugar maple, which can cause forking of the stem, thus decreasing the usable timber. Forking and epicormic branching (branches sprouting from the trunk) are also possible if the tree is grown in the open or in an understocked stand. This is prevented by managing dense stands, and only thinning when the trees are well established. In northern hardwood stands, sugar maple shoots are preferred by deer over beech, thus leading to a regenerating forest transitioning to beech-dominant instead of the preferred maple overstory. Another threat to sugar maple is road salt which is used extensively throughout its range and has been linked to tree dieback along paved roadways.
It is important to manage these threats, though, because sugar maple is one of our most valuable trees, with a mature stand often producing over 14,000 board-feet of timber per acre. Trees larger than twelve inches in diameter are tapped to produce maple syrup. All maple trees can be tapped, but sugar maple has by far the highest sugar content, as well as a late bud-break in the spring, and may produce over a quart of syrup per tap-per season. Larger trees can take more taps, so an ancient sugar maple may be able to produce up to a gallon of syrup per year. In addition to syrup, sugar maple can be used as a pulpwood, but is almost always allowed to grow to sawlog size. The wood from sugar maple, known as hard or rock maple in the lumber industry, is one of the most valuable products of the northern forest. It is exceptionally hard, strong, and has an aesthetically pleasing grain pattern which is highly varied depending on the tree, with rare grain patterns such as curly being highly sought after by woodworkers. End uses for hard maple include anything that requires a strong, durable wood such as furniture, bowling pins, bowling alleys, butcher-blocks, pool cues, and even bows. Recently, I heard a story from a landowner and sugarbush operator, who said that maple has even been used in baseball bats because of its great strength, but has never gained widespread favor for this purpose since it creates many splinters when it does break. Interestingly enough, he also said that the 200 trees that border his field (mostly small-diameter) can produce 75-100 gallons of syrup per year. This higher yield is caused by the topography of his land, which is a moderate south-facing slope. The added sunlight caused by growing next to a south-facing field allows the sap to run more in the spring, and more sugar to be created through the leaves in the summer, than in a typical forest. Sugar maple is also considered a “tone wood” which means that it is well suited for use in musical instruments such as drums, violins, and even the neck of the famed Fender Telecaster, the first production electric guitar and a staple in rock and country music bands for over half a century; it has been used by artists as influential as Pink Floyd and Waylon Jennings. Finally, syrup is not the only food product to be derived from sugar maple. It is a popular wood for smoking foods, most often pork products such as ham and bacon, and is used in the production of Tennessee whiskey, where charcoal made from sugar maple is used to filter the finished product before it is aged.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeM-v9UdAuo Identification of sugar maple
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLpqSnXiH8Y&list=PLBE1197A3397CA... Identification of the similar black maple
http://www.seacoastonline.com/article/20081106/NEWS/81106041 Article on New Hampshire’s oldest sugar maple
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQIf-v4CcF8&list=PLmiIVDyqNFPph-... Playlist of several hours worth of webinars relating to maple syrup production (start with the Maple Syrup Production fort the Beginner series).
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maple Wikipedia article on maple (see the uses section)