A Guide to Syrup Trees

Most people could probably tell you natural syrup comes from trees, but couldn't tell you just how many different kinds of syrup trees there are. This guide can get you started identifying them.

| January/February 1981

Though the sugar maple is the only tree tapped for commercial syrup-making, almost all maples (members of the genus Acer)-as well as birches, butternuts, alders, hickories, and black walnuts-can turn out some mighty tasty natural sweeteners. The amount of sap and its sugar content will vary from tree to tree even within a species, but the following hardwoods (at least one of which can be found just about anywhere in the U.S. or Canada) have all proved to be reliable syrup trees.

NORWAY MAPLE (Acer platanoides). Height 60', diameter 2'. Introduced from Europe as a roadside tree, widely planted across the United States.

BIGLEAF MAPLE (Acer macrophyllum), also called "broadleaf maple" or "Oregon maple." Height 30' to 70', diameter 1' to 2 1/2'. Found along stream banks and in moist canyon soil from southwestern British Columbia to southern California.

BLACK MAPLE (Acer nigrum), also called "hard maple" or "rock maple." Height 80', diameter 2' to 3 ' . A close relative of the sugar maple. Found in mixed hardwood forests and in the moist soil of valleys and uplands from southern Ontario east to southern Quebec and Vermont, southwest to Tennessee and Missouri, and north to southeastern Minnesota ... as well as locally in adjacent states.

RED MAPLE (Acer rubrum), also called "swamp maple" or "scarlet maple." Height 60' to 90', diameter 2 1/2 '. Grows in wet or moist soils of stream banks and valleys, swamps and uplands-and sometimes on dry ridges-in mixed hardwood forests from southeast Manitoba, east to eastern Newfoundland, south to Florida, and west to east Texas.

BOXELDER (Acer negundo), also called "ashleaf maple" and "Manitoba maple." Height 30' to 60', diameter 2 1/2 '. Found, with various other hardwoods, in wet or moist soils-often along stream banks in valleys-and naturalized in waste places and roadsides from southern Alberta to extreme southern Ontario and New York, south to central Florida, and west to southern Texas. Also scattered from New Mexico to California, and naturalized in New England.

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