|Leaf Shape||Lobed with serrated edges and pointed tips|
|Mature Height||Up to 100 feet-plus depending on type|
|Best Habitat||Moist, well-drained soil
|Uses||Syrup, musical instruments, furniture|
The Maple tree is in a class all its own. Its rare universal appeal is derived from both its beauty and commercial value. Along with its breathtaking fall foliage, certain types of Maple trees produce sap that is made into consumable syrup. Adding to the Maple's allure is the fact that you don't need a serious green thumb to maintain it in your own backyard.
Appearance of the Tree
The Maple tree grows to a manageable mature height of roughly 60 feet. This makes it a top choice with both professional landscapers and the average homeowner looking to add color and charm to green spaces.
While its height is less than extraordinary, Maples have a number of noteworthy characteristics, including:
- Bark: Young Maples have smooth, gray bark which develops deep furrows and long, thick plates as the tree matures. The Red Maple features crimson undertones and irregular scales in its bark as the tree ages.
- Fruit: Most Maples grow small U or V-shaped fruit with parallel wings called samaras. In some parts of the world the fruit bears the nickname: "helicopter."
- Leaves: Maple leaves are typically five-lobed with bright green glossy tops and pale green undersides. The leaves of the Silver Maple feature silvery white undersides. In addition, the leaves of nearly all Maple trees include fine teeth that line their perimeter.
Those serrated edges that look like teeth are a key trait of the Maple specimen, as are the leaves' pointed tips. Maple tree belongs to the genus Acer, which means "sharp" in Latin. The name refers to the iconic points featured on Maple leaves.
Maple Tree Types
There are more than 120 different types of Maple trees growing around the world. Among the most popular are:
- Red Maple: The Red Maple is prized by landscapers for providing exceptional shade and gorgeous deep scarlet fall foliage. The highly valued ornamental tree is also extremely adaptable in that it can thrive in both northern and southern climates. The Red Maple grows up to 50 feet tall and nearly all of its features, including its flowers, twigs and leaves, sport a red hue to varying degrees.
- Sugar Maple: Considered the granddaddy of maple syrup producers, the Sugar Maple's sap features high sugar content. The hearty trees are often grown en masse on plantations by commercial growers looking to profit from the Maple's sap. The Sugar Maple is also a highly desirable due to its longevity. The specimen is capable of living well beyond 200 years and can grow to heights that exceed 100 feet.
- Japanese Maple: Extremely popular in Japan, China and Korea, this Maple is much smaller than its cousins, typically growing to heights between 12 and 25 feet. However, the Japanese Maple's relatively diminutive size is what makes the tree so enticing to Asian growers. Not only does the tree's compact size allow it to be grown as a bonsai plant, several specimens can also be clustered together to create an appealing miniature forest effect. The Japanese Maple's striking fall foliage, fine leaf texture and interesting shape also make the tree a top pick among landscapers.
Where the Maple Grows
Maple trees are unique in that they are able to grow in varying environments. While most types of Maples prefer temperate conditions and moist, well-drained soil, some can prosper in clay-like dirt and warmer temperatures.
Given their adaptability Maples are able to grow in a variety of places around the world including:
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
- New Mexico
- New York
The Sugar Maple is grown in greatest abundance in Canada where the Maple leaf is considered the country's national symbol and is prominently featured on its flag.
Maples are vital as a source of syrup. Trees like the Sugar Maple are tapped and the sap is boiled to make syrup or sugar which can then be added to a litany of recipes from taffy to ham.
Despite its legendary ties to the world's syrup production, the tree has several other important uses, such as:
- Wood: Maple wood is highly prized thanks to its extreme durability. The valuable timber is the wood of choice for butcher blocks, bowling pins and pool cue shafts. In addition, bats made exclusively from Maple wood are standard in Major League baseball. The hard timber is also used to make floors, tables and cabinets for commercial and residential buildings.
- Musical Instruments: Maple is categorized as a tonewood, meaning it has the ability to carry sound waves exceptionally well. Consequently, the wood is used to create a number of musical instruments, including guitars and drums.
- Dyes: Centuries ago settlers to the New World would extract tannin from Red Maple leaves to make dye for clothing and other fabric pieces.
In addition, while not as popular as Hickory, Maple chips are often used by chefs to smoke meat and other foods.
The Red Maple is the state tree of Rhode Island and local tourism officials wouldn't have it any other way. The tree's brilliant fall foliage attracts tens of thousands of tourists to the state each autumn.
When visitors arrive they are given the chance to view the awe-inspiring natural color show and learn some interesting facts about Maple trees, including:
- Maple sap tapping season typically lasts four to six weeks, with peak time in March.
- Maple trees need to be at least 30 years old before they can be tapped.
- It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup.
- One tablespoon of maple syrup contains 50 calories and the same amount of calcium as milk.
- Some believe that Native Americans first discovered maple sap when one of them threw a tomahawk at a tree.
- The group mistakenly thought the sap was water and placed it over an open fire. They later discovered the clear liquid was sweet when it came to a boil and they tasted it.
In Japan, the Maple tree is considered a symbol of grace and elegance, and is often featured in paintings, poems and songs.
While they are among the hardiest trees on the planet, Maples are not immune to disease. In fact, the tree is susceptible to a number of infections, including:
- Inonotus Glomeratus: The disease attacks the Red Maple. The fungus appears as a black knot on freshly cut branches and can spread to other parts of the tree.
- Oxyporus Populinus: The fungal disease presents as a white spongy mass that attracts moss. It typically appears on the lower portions of the tree, but can spread to other sections of the tree if left untreated.
- Phellinus Igniarius: The black fungus attacks the heart of the tree and can kill it quickly if it is not caught.
In addition to disease, the Maple tree is also preyed upon by pests, including the Asian longhorned beetle. The winged insect feeds on Maple trees by burrowing deep into the guts of the tree. If not eradicated, the beetle can eventually kill the tree.
Given its hearty nature, Maple trees are not terribly difficult to grow.
To encourage prime growing conditions, consider the following tips:
- Space: The mature height of a Maple tree can top 100 feet, so it is essential to plant the tree in an area where it has ample room to spread. Do not plant a large specimen near power lines or structures that will interfere with its growth.
- Soil: Maples thrive in fertile, moist soil that is not prone to pooling.
- Sun: Maple trees prefer partial to full sunlight and should not be planted in the shade of a tall building.
- Shade: Large Maple trees can produce massive leaf canopies that can rob delicate grass and small plants of precious sunlight. It's best to plant Maples in an open space free of other specimens.
- Pruning: Regular pruning is not necessary unless you are working with a Japanese Maple bonsai. The tree has an appealing natural shape that doesn't require a lot of shearing.
Finally, it's a good idea to keep an eye on your Maple if you live in an area that experiences severe weather on a regular basis. The Silver Maple, in particular, is susceptible to cracking in high winds and heavy snow.