Let’s grow together! Sugar maples | Opinion

The sugar maple is a species of the maple genus and is native to Indiana. Not all maples are native to Indiana. The sugar maple is one of the most recognizable trees to the untrained eye. Easily identifiable characteristics are 1. Opposite leaves. It means two leaves growing on a twig opposite each other. 2. The leaves grow on a slender petiole and have the appearance of a hand about 5 inches in diameter showing 3-5 sharp toothed lobes. 3. They have what we called children, helicopters. Helicopters are the parallel-winged fruits that are noticeable near the leaves and fall to the ground in early fall. Other trickier ways to identify sugar maples are with the buds, when they turn a reddish-brown color. The furrowed, shaggy gray bark is another subtle feature that helps distinguish these trees. For more interest on how to identify these and other trees, we use the resource 101 Trees Indiana – A Field Guide – written by Marion T. Jackson.

As a choice of landscape, these trees are splendid. For those who love the bright colors of fall, this tree won’t disappoint with its red, yellow and orange hues. It is a medium to large sized tree with an impressive crown shape providing years of shade. The mature height is about 100 feet with a trunk diameter of 3 feet. It is one of the slowest growers and takes around 30 years to reach maturity. These trees are disease resistant and require very little maintenance as they age.

Preparation for planting will include choosing a site with full or partial sun. Remember, this tree will become a big tree. Choose a site where the tree will not compete for space as it grows. It can grow up to 24 inches per year until maturity is reached. Early fall is the recommended time for successful planting. Trees can be purchased at garden centers, big box stores, through catalogs, and other similar places. The price of trees varies according to quality and size. Planting trees is a whole different article on another day. But if you want a taste, you can Google “Purdue FNR-433-W” for more info or call the post office and they’ll send you a copy.

You can’t talk about sugar maple without mentioning maple syrup. Sugar maple is the preferred species for making maple syrup due to its higher concentration of sugar in the sap. The short syrup processing window begins in mid-February and ends in mid-March. During this window of time, many state parks sponsor publicly available maple syrup demonstrations. This would be a perfect opportunity for hands-on experience learning about sugar maple trees and how syrup is processed. Contact your state parks or local festivals to find out when demonstrations will be available. One such protest is taking place at Southeastway Park on the Marion side of the Shelby County line.

Finally, what interests me most about sugar maples is the story. These trees can live up to 400 years. Historic culinary use dates back to the Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Menominee Native American tribes who resided in Indiana. The abundance of sugar maples in North America provided an opportunity to experiment with how common sap could be used. It was recorded in addition to being used as a sweetener, there were other uses. We can read about combining sap with fruit to make fermented drinks. Allowing the sap to degrade made it an effective tenderizer for meats. As the ways to use the sap developed, the demand for the sap grew, making it a valuable commodity. Fast forward a few years, and writings by Thomas Jefferson, Dr. Benjamin Rush, and others have revealed many economic and social benefits of having a surplus of sugar maple trees.

We stress the importance of choosing plants native to Indiana. The sugar maple is a historic Indiana native plant and has survived for hundreds of years. It continues to provide aesthetic and functional uses that we can enjoy. Perhaps you would consider planting a sugar maple this year. Who knows, he may live 400 years and have his own stories.

Rachel J. Bradford