Autumn is here and the frosty winter air is rolling in quickly across New England this week! Now is the perfect time of year to identify your maple trees for the upcoming spring maple sugaring season before the leaves are completely gone from the branches. We’ll use a combination of clues from both the bark of the tree and its foliage to accurately identify each species of maple.
Some of the most common maple species found here in North America include: Sugar maple, Red maple and the Silver maple. We will also identify the Japanese maple which is commonly planted here for its beauty, though it is not native to North America.
Sugar maple, acer saccharum, is the most common species out of the group and also provides the best sap for producing maple syrup. It has the highest sugar content in its sap compared to the other species, and its leaf is featured on the Canadian flag. Its leaves usually have five lobes with smooth, u-shaped connections between each lobe and no serrated edges.
The sugar maple’s bark is medium to dark grey and smooth on young, small diameter trees. Mature trees of larger diameter have a distinct textured bark with vertical ridges or fissures that are brown to dark brown as pictured below.
Next we have the Red maple, acer rubrum, another common species known for its brilliant red fall foliage. The leaves have a distinct shape, with serrated edges and v-shaped spaces between the lobes.
The Red maple’s bark is very similar to that of the sugar maple, and can have robust ridges in the bark in mature trees as pictured below.
Silver maple, acer saccharinum, is one of our favorite species of maple and is also characterized by a very distinct leaf shape and bark type. The leaf of the silver maple has five lobes, with very deep notches between each long, slender lobe. The silver maple leaf is pictured below.
Silver maple tree bark is shaggy and rough similar to the sugar maple, but is distinctly more light grey or silver in appearance. It is very easy to spot silver maples in the woods amongst other species because of their bright, silver colored bark pictured below.
Japanese maple, acer palmatum, is native to Japan, Korea and parts of Russia. There are many variations of this species so it would be impossible to classify all of them under one set of identifiers. Generally speaking, its leaves are typically deeply cut and feathery in appearance with beautiful deep red hues, though some vary to deep dark purples.
Japanese maple’s bark is smoother and less textured than other species, as pictured below.
While there are many more species of maple trees along with sub-species, these are just a few of the most common trees in our area. This is a great time of year to identify the trees you want to tap on your property for the upcoming sugaring season, since we can use the foliage as our guide.
If you have a large property with a number of trees, you can always mark the trees you want to tap by tying a brightly colored ribbon loosely around the tree’s trunk. This will help make your first season of sugaring successful as you’ll take the guess work out of identifying your trees in early Spring when it comes time for tapping.