The sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is a fast growing native tree that can attain heights in excess of 100 feet. Trees found in shaded forest develop clear, straight boles and narrow crowns. The leaves of sugar maple are arranged opposite on the twigs. They are usually five-lobed although certain trees may possess leaves with three, four, or five lobes. Leaves are dark green on the top surface and paler underneath. They turn vibrant red and yellow in autumn. The leaves are generally smooth on both sides, although the veins underneath may be slightly hairy. The margins between lobes of the leaves are shallow and smooth, which distinguishes them from leaves of the similar-looking red maple (Acer rubrum), which has serrated lobe margins. Another difference in the leaves is the “U-shaped” connections between lobes of sugar maple leaves versus the “V-shaped” connections of red maple. The bark on young trees is dark gray, but as the tree ages the bark develops rough vertical grooves and ridges (fissures) and may appear dark brown. On mature trees, the bark typically appears to have long plates that peel along the side edge. Sugar maple is one of the largest and most important commercial hardwood trees in the eastern United States and Canada and is highly prized for its wood and sap, as it is the primary source of maple syrup. Its scientific name, the Latin saccharum, means sugar. The tree is hard and resistant to wear, used e.g. in dance floors. Sugar Maple has been cultivated in European gardens since 1753. Acer is the Latin name for maple tree. There are many cultivars that have variations in grown form and leaf color, but no purple-leaved variations are known and only one cultivar has deeply-dissected leaves. The leaf has been stylized as Canada’s national symbol.
Common name: Sugar Maple, Rock Maple, Hard Maple
Scientific Name (order and family): Acer saccharum Marshall (Sapindaceae, Sapindales)
Species Origin: Eastern North America
New Jersey Status: USDA Native
Habit: 70 – 100’ tall; 50’ wide;bole 2 -3’ diameter.
Habitat: Zones 4 – 9; Moist forests.
Trunk/Stem: Bark gray in broad vertical strips.
Leaves: Deciduous, Simple, Opposite. Palmately lobed, 5” long and 6” across; with 5 lobes; the three largest with few prominent teeth. The 5 lobes are drawn out into long-pointed tips; the 3 longest lobes often have 2 “shoulder” subpoints. Base is heart-shaped. Mid to dark green above; below hairs in vein axils. Yellow-orange-red in autumn.
Flowers: Perfect. Male and female flowers both small and greenish yellow without petals, in clusters on shoots in early spring. Drooping on slender stalks; stalks persist through winter.
Fruits and seeds: Double samara acute angle with one another, almost parallel to each other, 1” long.