Trees of Clear Lake Twp.
September 28, 2020
Article and photos by Don Luepke
Actually those pancakes look a bit on the “anemic” side. Perhaps they need a nice pat of butter on top. Or maybe sweetened with a dab of maple syrup. Hmmmm. I wonder what the source of that honey-like goodness is? Yes, it is indeed the Acer saccharum – the Sugar Maple.
The Sugar Maple is native to Indiana and areas with cooler climates and requires a hard freeze each winter for proper dormancy. They can tolerate virtually any soil type short of pure sand, but do not tolerate xeric or swampy conditions. Sugar maples are deeper-rooted than most maples and engage in hydraulic lift, drawing water from lower soil layers and exuding that water into upper, drier soil layers. This not only benefits the tree itself, but also many other plants growing around it.
This wondrous tree can grow to a height of 70-100 feet and can live upwards of 300 years. Of course one of the products that come from this tree is an abundance of sweet sap that can be harvested from it during the later winter months. But truth be told, it takes a great deal of the tree liquid to produce the delectable syrup that we love – ten gallons of sap to create a quart of syrup. But oh so good!
The Acer saccharum is a very hard wood and its lumber is used for flooring (from basketball courts and dance-floors to bowling alleys and residential), veneer, paper (pulpwood), musical instruments, cutting boards, butcher blocks, workbenches, baseball bats, and other turned objects and specialty wood items.
The Sugar Maple is of significant value for northeast Indiana wildlife. It provides a food source for mammals and insects and is a key component of the breeding habitat for a wide variety of birds. Squirrels and chipmunks feed on its seeds, buds, twigs, and leaves. The flowers appear to be wind-pollinated, but the early-produced pollen is important for honeybees and other insects. Sugar Maples are also important for birds that live in the region, both year-round residents and summer migrants who travel to our area to breed. Songbirds that consume the seeds, buds, and flowers of maple species include purple finch, American goldfinch and red-breasted nuthatch.
The “fruits” of the sugar maple are called samaras and are released from the tree in the fall (as opposed to the soft maples whose “spinners” or helicopters which are dispersed in the spring). As children, how we delighted in seeing those fall from their lofty perch.
Certainly one of the grand aspects of the Acer saccharum is its magnificent fall colors. It stars in nature's autumn fashion show and draws people from all parts of the world to admire its end-of-year finery. The sugar maple presents fiery orange-gold leaves that appear illuminated from within, they are so brilliant. It ranges from the beginning deep green and then morphs into a palette of pale yellow, vibrant orange, and reverberant reds.
The Sugar Maple is indeed among the true gems in the world of native ligneous flora; its exceptional qualities mark it as one of the diamonds of environmental worth. Planting one now in your yard will reap centuries of value in beneficial attributes as well as pure, wondrous beauty.