Sugar Maple

Garden Clippings for Jan 21, 2023

Ask any elementary school kid what the official national tree is for Canada, and you will get “Maple” for an answer.  Correct.

Even though the Maple tree has a long and affectionate history with Canada, it was not till 1996, a mere 28 years ago, that the Maple was officially declared as Canada’s official tree.  And when Prime Minister Jean Chretien signed the declaration, he did not specify which variety he was thinking of.

Canada is the native home to many varieties of Maple, of which 10 can be found in Ontario.  For us in Southwestern Ontario, there are three significant varieties of native Maples.

Manitoba Maple (Acer Negundo) is a fast-growing, weak-wooded tree with a haphazard tallish shape.  In Southwestern Ontario it is almost considered a nuisance invasive species because it grows wherever you don’t want it to grow.  West of Ontario, Manitoba Maple is a respected valued tree.

Silver Maple (Acer Saccharinum) is another fast-growing tree that grows too easily in Ontario.  Its helicopters or twirly birds, as we called them, sprout in gardens, eavestroughs, and swampy ditch banks.  Silver Maples are often found in Southern Ontario forests but are more plentiful in urban backyards.

Sugar Maple (Acer Saccharum) are trees that Ontarians love to love.  Sugar Maples are known for their incredible fall colour ranging from yellow to red and all colours in between.  Sugar Maple’s second significant attribute is maple syrup, offered to us as soon as sap begins to run early in Spring.

In Canada’s most western province, Big Leaf Maple (Acer Macropyllum) becomes a huge, broad spreading tree.   British Columbia is also home to Vine Maple (Acer Circinatum) and Douglas or Rocky Mountain Maple (Acer Glabrum) which are both smaller trees with a shrub-like shape.

Sugar Maple grows freely in and around the Great Lakes, south to Tennessee, and East to Nova Scotia.  They won’t be found west of Ontario.  Wisconsin, New York, Vermont and West Virginia all name Sugar Maples as their official state tree.

The bark of Sugar Maple is greyer and smoother than all other native Maples.  Green moss grows freely on the bark of Sugar Maples growing in dense forests.  Leaves of Sugar Maple are green in spring and summer, turning bright coloured in fall.

Those who want to distinguish between Sugar Maple and other Canadian Maples will notice their leaves resemble those that grace the Canadian flag, but their leaf lobe tips swerve slightly to the left or right.

Sugar Maples have a strange property where their seeds will not germinate unless they experience a minimum of 5 to 6 weeks of cold temperature in order to break down their coat, a process called scarification.  After the seeds are scarified, they will not sprout until the following spring when they require several weeks of consistent warm and damp conditions.  Nursery growers can beat the system by tossing Sugar Maple seeds in the freezer for 6 weeks.

Silver Maples are a favorite tree because they are easy to grow and transplant, tolerate shade, insects and disease, and give amazing fall colour.  Sugar Maples are not fussy about soil conditions, but are not fond of swampy wet soil.