Interesting Facts About Maple Trees - Description and Uses

Updated on November 14, 2019
Vellur profile image

A graduate in botany, Nithya Venkat enjoys writing about plants that help sustain life on planet Earth.

Maple trees belong to the genus Acer and family Sapindaceae. There are about 125 species of maple trees. They can be found growing parts of Asia, Europe, North America, Canada, and Northern Africa.

Maple trees are admired for their stunning display of fall leaf colors. The leaves turn into shades of yellow, orange, and red. This article is an in-depth look at the red maple, sugar maple, and silver maple trees.

Red Maple Tree
Red Maple Tree | Source

Red Maple Tree

Red Maple Tree (Acer rubrum) is a deciduous tree well-known for its vibrant autumn leaves. This tree grows to a height of about 60 to 90 feet and has a trunk that can grow up to 30 inches in diameter. It is the state tree of Rhode Island.

These trees can adapt well to different soil and climate conditions. The red maple tree grows short taproots with long lateral roots in wet soil and develops deep taproots with short lateral roots in dry soil.

The crown has a spread of 25 to 35 feet and is rounded, or oval when it reaches maturity. The young trees have smooth light gray bark that becomes a darker gray furrowed and scaly at maturity. The average lifespan of the red maple is 80 to 100 years. They start producing seeds when they are four years old.

Leaves of the Red Maple Tree
Leaves of the Red Maple Tree | Source

The leaves of the red maple are palmate, 3 inches to 6 inches wide, and have 3 to 5 lobes. They are green above and pale green below. The margins are serrated with shallow "V "shaped divisions between lobes.

The leaves turn to shades of yellow, orange-red to bright red during fall. They are highly serrated when compared to the sugar maple leaves.

Red Maple-Female Flowers
Red Maple-Female Flowers | Source
Red Maple-Samaras
Red Maple-Samaras | Source

The flowers of the red maple are bright red and are found growing in clusters. They appear in spring before the leaves unfurl. A single red maple tree can produce all male flowers, all-female flowers, or both male and female flowers on the same tree. Some maple trees are monoecious having the male and female sex organs in the same flower. The male flowers have long stamens that extend beyond the petal with yellow pollen at the tips. In the female flower, the stigma extends beyond the petals to catch the pollen.

The fruit of the red maple tree produces winged samaras (winged seeds). They are known as spinners because they spin as they fall to the ground.

The red maple samaras are red, whereas those of the sugar maple is green in spring. These samaras disperse in spring before the leaves are fully developed. The sugar maple samaras hang on without dispersing until the fall.

Uses of Red Maple

Due to its bright red colored leaves, fruits, and beautiful fall colors, the red maple tree is valued as an ornamental tree. Wood of the red maple tree is ideal for the manufacture of boxes and musical instruments.

Red Maple and Wildlife

Red maple is a source of food for moose, deer, and rabbits. The sap has half the sugar content of the sugar maple tree, but it has a great taste.

The seeds, the buds, and flowers are food for many wildlife species. Wood ducks nest inside cavities of red maples.


Sugar Maple Tree
Sugar Maple Tree | Source

Sugar Maple Tree

The sugar maple (Acer saccharaum) belongs to the soapberry family (Sapindaceae). The sugar maple tree is a deciduous tree that grows to a height of 60 feet to 80 feet and has a diameter of 1 to 2 feet. The sugar maple is also called hard maple because of the density and strength of its wood.

The bark of the young sugar maple tree is brownish gray. As they grow older, the bark becomes darker, furrowed with thin, gray scaly plates. The crown of the sugar maple is dense and has an oval, rounded or a columnar shape. This tree is planted as a shade tree because of its dense crown.

The sugar maple has a shallow root system with strong lateral roots that are highly branched.

Sugar Maple Leaves
Sugar Maple Leaves | Source

The leaves of the sugar maple tree are borne on a smooth stalk. They are palmate and measure three to five inches in width and height. They have five lobes with serrated margins. The division between the lobes is smooth, shallow and rounded. The leaves turn into colors of yellow, orange and deep red during fall.

The two lobes at the base of the leaves are smaller than the other three and are almost parallel to each other. The leaves are dark green above and light green below.

Sugar Maple Flowers
Sugar Maple Flowers | Source
Sugar Maple Fruits
Sugar Maple Fruits | Source

A sugar maple tree can produce all-male flowers or all female flowers or both on the same tree. Some trees bear flowers that have both the male and female sex organs. The flowers of the sugar maple are found in clusters and are greenish-yellow. They appear in spring just before the leaves emerge.

The fruits of this tree are double samaras (winged seeds) that are green in spring and turn yellowish-green or light brown in autumn.

Maple syrup is made from the sap of the sugar maple tree. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.

Uses of Sugar Maple

Sugar maple has heavy, strong wood that is used to make furniture, paneling, flooring, and veneer. It is also used to make bowling pins and musical instruments. The maple tree wood is a tonewood (wood that carries soundwaves, due to this property the maple wood is used to make musical instruments like violins, violas, and cellos. The necks of electric guitars are also made from maple wood.

Sugar Maple and Wildlife

Sugar maple is a source of food for many wildlife species. The white-tailed deer, moose and snow hares browse on sugar maple trees. Red squirrels feed on its buds, twigs, and leaves. Porcupines eat the bark.

The flowers are wind-pollinated. The pollen that is initially produced is essential for Apis mellifera (honey bees) and other insects. The sugar maple is a caterpillar host for the Cecropia Silkmoth and Rose Maple Moth. Many birds build nests and forage the tree for insects.


Silver Maple Tree
Silver Maple Tree | Source
Silver Maple Leaves
Silver Maple Leaves | Source

Silver Maple Tree

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) is also called soft maple or white maple. It is a deciduous tree that has rapid growth with a shallow root system. It belongs to the soapberry family (Sapindaceae) and has a stout trunk with large forked spreading branches. The branches are brittle and break easily.

This tree grows to a height of about 60 to 120 feet. The young bark is smooth and gray but becomes flaky as it reaches maturity. The crown of the maple tree is vase-shaped with an irregular crown.

The leaves are 4 to 6 inches long, green above, silvery below, and have five lobes with deep "V" shaped divisions. The middle lobe is also divided into three lobes with shallow sinuses. The twigs are slender, red-brown, and curved upwards. The leaves turn yellow to red during fall.

Silver Maple Flowers
Silver Maple Flowers | Source

The silver maple tree is monoecious. The male flowers are greenish-yellow, and the female flowers are red. They appear in clusters in early spring before the leaves begin to unfold.

Silver Maple Samaras
Silver Maple Samaras | Source

The fruits of the silver maple are samaras that grow in attached pairs with green or yellow wings with large seeds at the base. They measure about 1.2 - 2 inches in length and are the largest samaras among all maple trees.

The silver maple trees are not favored for landscaping because of its brittle wood that breaks off during storms. The roots are shallow, grow rapidly, and can cause cracks in basement walls, sidewalks, tanks, and drain pipes.

The cut-leaf silver maple (A.saccharinum ‘Laciniatum’) and the pyramidal silver maple (A.saccharinum ‘Pyramidale’) varieties are used in landscaping because they are not very tall and have sturdy branches.

Silver maples have thin, watery sap with low sugar content and hence not ideal for making maple syrup.

Uses of Silver Maple

The wood of silver maple is used to make lightweight furniture, cabinetry, paneling, flooring, veneer, musical instruments, boxes, crates, and tools.

Silver Maple and Wildlife

The seeds of the silver maple tree are eaten by many birds, squirrels, and chipmunks. The buds are a source of food for squirrels during late winter and early spring. The bark is food for beavers and the leaves are eaten by deer and rabbits. The silver maple tree tends to form cavities that are used for shelter by nesting birds and mammals.

Characteristics
Red Maple
Sugar Maple
Silver Maple
Bark
smooth light gray when young, dark gray furrowed and scaly at maturity
brownish gray when young, dark brownish gray furrowed with scaly plates at maturity
smooth gray when young becomes flaky at maturity
Height
60 - 90 feet
60 - 80 feet
60 - 120 feet
Crown
rounded/oval shape
oval/rounded/columnar shape
vase shaped
Roots
shallow spreading root system in wet soil or deep rooting system in well-drained soil
shallow spreading root system in wet soil or deep rooting system in well-drained soil
shallow-rooting plant with long main roots, invasive causing damages to structural properties
Leaves
palmate, green above and pale green below,highly serrated margins, 3- 5 lobes with 'v' shaped divisions
palmate, dark green above and pale green below, serrated margins, 5 lobes with rounded divisions separating lobes
palmate, green above and silvery below, serrated margins, 5 lobes with deep divisions
Flowers
bright red grow in clusters,monoecious/dioecious
greenish-yellow, grow in clusters, monoecious/dioecious
female flowers are red and male flowers are greenish-yellow, grow in clusters, monoecious
Fruits
paired, yellowish-red, winged samaras, 3/4 - 1 inch long
paired, yellowish green, winged samaras with two seeds fused together at the base, 1 inch long
paired, green, double winged single seeded samaras. 1.2 - 2 inches in length

More Maple Trees for Stunning Fall Leaves

Name
Fall Color
Maximum Height
Amur Maple
Red
20 feet
Striped Maple
Yellow
30 feet
Crimson Queen Maple
Red
10 feet
Autumn Blaze Maple
Red
50 feet
Tapping Maple Trees
Tapping Maple Trees | Source

Maple Syrup Extraction

Maple is a sweet syrup that is obtained from the sap of the maple tree. Any tree that is eight inches or more in width can be tapped for maple syrup.

From the beginning of the 17th century, dairy farmers were looking for a source of sweetener that was better in quality and cheaper than sugar. They drilled holes in the trees during the short time between winter and spring.

The farmers hung buckets under the drilled holes. They called the maples tree “sugar bushes”. After a day or two, the farmers would empty the buckets in large containers and haul the sap to a sugar house built in the woods. To make the brown, sweet maple syrup the sugar manufacturers boiled the sap to remove most of the water content.

Nowadays holes are bored in sugar maples in early spring. Small plastic spouts are inserted into these holes and the spouts are connected to a central plastic tubing that allows the sap to flow into large tanks.

The sap from the maple tree oozes out when the day temperature is forty degrees followed by a night when the temperature is below freezing. Global warming has affected the production of maple syrup resulting in a substantial increase in the price of maple syrup.

References

Red Maple from Tree-Guide

Sugar Maple from Environmental Studies

Plant Guide-Silver Maple from USDA-NRCS

Climate Change and Maple Syrup from Forbes


Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Nithya Venkat

    Comments

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      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        6 days ago from Dubai

        Thank you for your visit and comment Luis G Asuncion.

      • Luis G Asuncion profile image

        Luis G Asuncion 

        7 days ago from City of San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, Philippines

        This is interestin, I am not sure if I already saw a Mapple tree. Thanks for sharin.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        7 days ago from Dubai

        Thank you Hari.

      • shprd74 profile image

        Hari Prasad S 

        8 days ago from Bangalore

        Beautiful mapel tree and its leaves. I was seeing a documentary yesterday on maple sugar syrup in Netflix. Your article is comprehensive and we'll researched.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        12 days ago from Dubai

        Thank you for the visit and comments Nell.

      • Nell Rose profile image

        Nell Rose 

        13 days ago from England

        I love the names, sugar maple etc. Not sure if we get them over here in England? I will have to take a look. Lovely article Nithya.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        3 weeks ago from Dubai

        Luis G Asunción I hope you get to see maple trees, thank you for your visit and comment.

      • Luis G Asuncion profile image

        Luis G Asuncion 

        3 weeks ago from City of San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, Philippines

        I haven't seen any mapple tree. Maybe because it cannot be planted in a tropical country like the Philippines.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        3 weeks ago from Dubai

        Thank you Devika, the trees are brilliant during fall.

      • profile image

        Devika Primic 

        4 weeks ago

        Interesting facts about Maple trees and you have lovely photos of the trees. Beautiful trees and leaves are stunning in Autumn as well.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 weeks ago from Dubai

        It must have been such an amazing experience to see the maple trees during fall. Thank you for your appreciation and comments.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 weeks ago from Dubai

        Thank you Linda maple trees are beautiful, especially in fall.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        4 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        I love maple trees. Thank you for sharing so many facts about them, Nithya. This is a very informative article.

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 

        4 weeks ago from New Delhi, India

        Excellent, well written and researched article about the Maple trees.

        These are beautiful trees, with such lovely colours. I had seen these wonderful trees in the pictures only, till I visited US sometime back and got the opportunity to see them closely. They are so lovely during the fall. I took so many pictures of these trees.

        Thanks for sharing the detailed and interesting information about the Maple trees. I didn’t know there were so many types and the process of extraction of the maple is interesting. Thank You.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 weeks ago from Dubai

        FlourishAnyway it is tough to deal with spinners. It must have been delicious to have the original maple syrup! Thank you for stopping by.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        4 weeks ago from USA

        I have a sugar maple in my front yard and the color is brilliant in the fall but those spinners clog up everything when they fall. I used to live in Maine where they harvested maple syrup and have never been able to give the real stuff up for that high fructose fake syrup. It’s amazing. We buy ours by the half gallon.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 weeks ago from Dubai

        Thank you Ruby, the red maple is beautiful but a lot of work when it sheds leaves.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 weeks ago from Dubai

        Thank you Dora, I am happy you got to know more about the maple trees through this article.

      • always exploring profile image

        Ruby Jean Richert 

        4 weeks ago from Southern Illinois

        Interesting article, especially the sugar maple. I have a large red maple in my front yard. It gives good shade but many leaves to rake. I enjoyed seeing all the pictures. Well done.

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Great research and detailed interesting presentation. I learn so many interesting facts about the maple, especially about the flowers. Thank you.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 weeks ago from Dubai

        Thank you for your visit and comments John. Maple trees are my favorite too.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        4 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

        Thank you for sharing this interesting information about the various forms of maple tree, Nithya. We don't have maples here, too hot and dry, but they are one of my favourite trees.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 weeks ago from Dubai

        Thank you Peggy, the sugar maple must have been stunning with colorful foliage during fall. I am glad this article brought back childhood memories.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 weeks ago from Dubai

        Thank you Audrey, the maple syrup is a definite plus added to the beauty of these trees.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 weeks ago from Dubai

        Thank you Bill, the fall foliage of maple trees is so beautiful.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        4 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        When I was a child living in Wisconsin, there was such a spectacular Sugar Maple Tree across from my parent's yard, that the Milwaukee Journal newspaper used to send photographers out each year to photograph it. It was one of the trees that I used to enjoy climbing as a youngster. This was an enjoyable article to read. Thanks for spurring those memories of long ago.

      • vocalcoach profile image

        Audrey Hunt 

        4 weeks ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        Love these trees in every way...colors, the shapes of leaves and of course maple syrup!

        Interesting information.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        4 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        All I knew about them was I love them...and then you came along with some great information. Vermont,where I lived for two years, is known for its sugar maples, maple syrup, and spectacular fall foliage. So pretty!

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 weeks ago from Dubai

        Thank you Eric.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 weeks ago from Dubai

        Thank you Mary.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        4 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Wonderful.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        4 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

        I love the colours of the maples in the Fall. You have given us very comprehensive info on these trees. Love maple syrup, too.

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