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

  • 067 syrup trees - norway maple
    Norway maples were introduced to the U.S. from Europe.
    ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 067 syrup trees - bigleaf maple
    The bigleaf  maple's range is primarily in the western U.S. and Canada.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 067 syrup trees - red maple
    Stream banks, swamps, valleys, and uplands are the main habitat of the red maple, but sometimes they'll grow on dry ridges. 
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 067 syrup trees - black maple
    Black maples generally grow in mixed hardwood forests in valleys and uplands.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 067 syrup trees - silver maple
    Silver maple grow best in moist soils and are most often found growing along stream banks.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 067 syrup trees - boxelder
    Boxelders are also often found growing along stream banks, primarily in the eastern U.S. and Canada.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 067 syrup trees - canyon maple
    Canyon maples grow best in mountain canyons with moist soil.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 067 syrup trees - florida maple
    Although named "Florida" maple, this tree grows across the southeastern U.S. and as far west as Oklahoma.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 067 syrup trees - sweet birch
    The sweet birch grows from southern Quebec to northern Alabama and as far west as Ohio.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 067 syrup trees - sugar maple
    Sugar maples, the only tree tapped for commercial syrup production, grow from eastern Canada to northern Georgia.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

  • 067 syrup trees - norway maple
  • 067 syrup trees - bigleaf maple
  • 067 syrup trees - red maple
  • 067 syrup trees - black maple
  • 067 syrup trees - silver maple
  • 067 syrup trees - boxelder
  • 067 syrup trees - canyon maple
  • 067 syrup trees - florida maple
  • 067 syrup trees - sweet birch
  • 067 syrup trees - sugar maple

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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