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Native Tree of the Week – Sugar Maple

Sugar Maple

Sugar maple tree

Is there a more Canadian tree than the sugar maple? The national tree of Canada is, of course, cherished for its production of the sap that becomes maple syrup, a Canadian household staple. The leaf on the Canadian flag is based on a sugar maple leaf, although the leaf underwent some small, stylistic changes when it became the symbol on the flag. And sugar maples have been here in Canada long before Canada became a country, with the oldest one nearby in Pelham! One of ten maple varieties native to our region, the sugar maple is only found in our nation in eastern Canada, and is common in Hamilton woods and urban areas.

Sugar Maple tree features

You’re walking along the Bruce Trail and you spot a maple leaf: is it a sugar maple leaf? If it’s about four to six inches wide, almost that long, with 3 or 5 lobes and long, blunt tips, it could be a sugar maple. The black maple leaf is similar, but is darker in color and droops at the edges. The Norway maple leaf looks very similar in shape, so to check if it’s a Norway maple, give the leaf or leafstalk a slight tear. If milky goop appears, it’s a Norway; otherwise, you have found a sugar maple.

The sugar maple’s bark is initially smooth and gray, becoming vertically ridged and darker as the tree matures. The seedcases, or keys, often drop in pairs, although only one key in the pair usually contains good seed. The wood is often used in woodworking and also burns with less smoke than other woods, so if you need to have a sugar maple pruned or removed the wood is prime for urban wood utilization. The trees can grow up to 35 meters high, although in urban areas they don’t routinely reach 20 meters. And you don’t need to boil down your collected sap before you taste it: enjoy maple sap straight from the tree. The sugar maple’s biggest claim to fame after its syrupy sap is its fiery autumnal displays: the leaves turn a mix of burning bright reds and oranges every fall.

Sugar Maple planting!

Sugar maples are a wonderful shade tree that can be grown with proper care and space in Hamilton. The trees can tolerate partial shade, although they grow best in full sun. Don’t plant the tree under power lines, since the tree does grow quite tall, and do a soil test before planting your sugar maple: the trees grow best in soil with some lime content. The trees grow very slowly, at a rate of about a foot per year. Low hanging branches can be pruned off to give walking space underneath; do this in summer to avoid the tree oozing sap.

Sugar maples are a relatively low maintenance tree, and they can live to over 200 years old. Unfortunately, climate change is endangering this native tree’s ability to survive in Hamilton’s warming climate. Plant a tree, and then take action to respond to the changing climate.