National Geographic : 1955 Nov
fr'A y © National Geographic Society Painting by National Geographic Artist Walter A. Weber Sugar Maple's Flowers Appear in Spring; U-shaped Seed Wings Drop in the Fall The bark of young sugar maples is smooth and silvery gray. On mature specimens, like the one above, it becomes darker, scaly, and more furrowed. Glossy twigs are reddish brown or buff. Sugar maples are mostly one-sexed, but both male and female flowers may be borne on the same tree. Long-stalked, greenish-yellow flowers pop out in umbrella-shaped clusters. Leaves, growing opposite in pairs, are 4 or 5 inches broad, usually 5-lobed and heart-shaped at the base. Normally they are irregularly toothed, dark green above, paler beneath. Seed wings grow up to 1~4 inches. Sugar Maple, Sweetest Tree That Grows (State Tree of Vermont, New York, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) (Painting on Page 661, with Birches) T HE sugar maple won selection by four States on account of four virtues: the tree is a source of syrup and sugar, a hand some shader, a highly valued timber, and, as firewood, burns cheerily and fragrantly. Chief glory of the northern woods in au tumn, the sugar maple's foliage turns a bril liant red, rich orange, or clear yellow; its vivid color comes from the altered propor tions of visible pigments in the leaf. With the onset of autumn, the green chlorophyll fades. Then other pigments show off: xan thophyll, which gives yellow to the leaf, and carotin with its carrot hue. Still others, anthocyans, account for the intense reds and purples in the fall foliage. A Real, Live "Candy Tree" Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) gets both Latin and common names from its sweetish sap, source of maple syrup and sugar. Each year the maple syrup industry brings millions of dollars to Vermont, New York, Wisconsin, and other northern States. An average tree will yield 15 to 20 gallons of sap in a good season, which boils down to somewhat more than a quart of syrup.* Sugar maple tends to become a large tree; it often towers 80 or 90 feet. Recorded speci mens have even reached heights of 120 to 130 feet, with breast-high diameters of four or five feet. The species has a very wide distribution; it occurs in 30 States in the eastern half of the Nation from Maine to Georgia, besides ranging as far west as the Dakotas and north into Canada. In some of these areas it is also called hard maple and rock maple. It is prized as a shade and ornamental tree, but does not take readily to city streets. Most Rewarding of Our Maples Sugar maple prospers best in moist but well-drained uplands, typically at an altitude of 3,000 feet in the Appalachians. It grows quite slowly above a shallow and wide-spread ing root system. In the North it sometimes appears in pure stands, but frequently associ ates with red and white spruce, balsam fir, basswood, and beech, oak, black cherry, hick ory, red maple, and yellow birch. Economically, sugar maple is the most valu able of our dozen native tree maples and for tunately the most abundant. The estimated commercial stand in the United States is about 33 billion board feet, a good third of it in the States around the Great Lakes, with Michigan * See "Sugar Weather in the Green Mountains," by Stephen Greene, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, April, 1954.