There are over 200 different species of trees in the maple family. Most are symmetrical, wide
spreading trees with extremely thick foliage. Most are also deciduous trees, found in the northern
temperate zones; including much of North America, Canada and Europe.
The leaves of the maple tree are wide, deeply indented, varying in length from 2 to 5 inches,
depending on the species.
The maple tree is best known for two things, it's helicopter seeds which fall to the ground spinning
like the blades of a helicopter, and the syrup or sugar which is made from its sap. The helicopters
are actually the \fruit of the maple tree. They have two small (about 1/4" across) seeds at the
center, joined together by a very weak link, and two thin, paper like wings, one on each side.
When they are ripe, these fruits often break apart and float to the earth with the wing spinning
round and round.
Maple syrup is probably the true fame maker for the maple tree. While most maples have sweet sap, the sugar, also known as rock or hard maple, produces, by far, the best sap for maple syrup and sugar. The sap of the sugar maple has higher concentrations of sugar than the other members of the maple family, and produces better flavored, lighter syrup.
The sugar maple (acer saccharum) is a slow growing hard wood tree. It can reach heights of 130 feet or more and live to be very old. Often times the truck of an old maple can be three or more feet in diameter. A tree this size, however, is extremely old. To place a single tap on a maple tree, the trunk must be at least 12 inches in diameter, a size taking 40 years for the tree to reach. Sugar maples are only found in one area of the world. This ranges from Southeast Canada, down into the Northeastern United States. Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Maine, and as far west as Ohio all have sugar maples.
This is the only part of the world which has proper conditions for this tree and is therefore the only part of the world that can produce maple syrup.
The sugar maple is also sought after for its fine wood. It is tough, hard, fancy grained wood which is often made into furniture or used as a veneer. Some sugar maples form intricate patterns in their wood, such as the birds-eye maple which has circles scattered through the wood resembling bird eyes.
Other species grown in this area are:
Norway Maple - Acer platanoides
Hardiness Zones: 3-7, deciduous, growth rate: moderate, site requirements: Sun; wide range of soil types; tolerates hot dry conditions. Dense rounded symmetrical crown. Introduced to the US in 1756 the Norway Maple is native to Europe
Red Maple - Acer Rubrum
Hardiness Zones: 3 - 9, The red maple tree grows at a moderate to rapid rate. Site requirements: bright sun to partial shade, wide range of soil types: sandy loam to clay. The tree has some air pollution tolerance and it is one of the first trees to show fall color.
Silver Maple - Acer saccharinum
Hardiness Zones: 3 - 9, grows to a medium to large size at a rapid rate. Growth slower after tree becomes larger. Site requirements: bright sun to partial shade, wide range of soil types including poor soil. It has an upright form with oval to rounded shape.
Sugar Maple - Acer Saccharum
Hardiness Zones: 4-8, habit: deciduous, growth rate: slow, site requirements: sun to partial shade; prefers evenly moist, well drained soil. Form: conical to round crown; dense foliage. Height: 50 to 75ft.
Japanese Maple - Acer Palmatum
Hardiness Zones: 5-8, growth rate: Slow to moderate, site requirements: light dappled shade; evenly moist, well drained soil; protect from drying winds. Form: Low; dense rounded top; spreading branches; assumes a layered look. Height: 15 to 25ft.
A special note about the Norway Maple! Black Tar Spot is ravaging Norways all throughout the Ottawa area. If your tree is infected, you will notice perfectly symmetrical black spots on the leaves, and leaves falling much earlier than normal. The only real control is to ensure all leaves are cleaned up as they fall, so the disease does not overwinter. Not everyone is aware of this, so even if you are diligent, a neighbour down the road might not be and your tree will be infected again and again.
Whether grown as a specimin like the Japanese Maple or a shade tree, Maples are hardy, beautiful to look at, and provide year round interest.
The ‘Comfort Maple’, thought to be Canada’s oldest Maple tree,
has stood in the field near Niagara for 650 years.