Interesting Facts About Maple Trees - Description and Uses
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 (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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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
60 - 90 feet
60 - 80 feet
60 - 120 feet
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
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
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
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
Crimson Queen Maple
Autumn Blaze Maple
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.
© 2019 Nithya Venkat