Types of Maple Trees & Their Sap Qualities for Tapping
Maple syrup is the golden nectar of the maple tree. It is produced by tapping into the maple tree and collecting the sap. The sap is then boiled down to concentrate the sugar and create the delicious syrup we enjoy on pancakes and waffles.
Maple syrup is also one of the oldest agricultural products in North America, with a long and rich history.
Native Americans have been processing maple sap to make syrup and sugar for centuries. They have directly influenced the way we tap maple trees and produce syrup today.
Because explorers and settlers could observe how the Native Americans tapped maple trees and produced syrup, they were able to adopt this practice and adapt it to their own methods.
Consequently, the production of maple syrup became an important industry in early North America.
Most maple syrup is produced in Canada and the northeastern United States. These are the regions where maple trees are most prevalent.
Because of the long, cold winters in these areas, maple trees have evolved to produce a large amount of sap. This sap is what we tap to make syrup.
There are many different types of maple trees. Each one produces sap somewhat similar yet different in color, flavor, and sugar content.
While sugar maples are the most commonly tapped maple trees, black maples, red maples, silver maples and a few other types of maples can also be tapped for sap.
The flavor of the syrup also differs depending on the type of maple tree the sap is collected from.
We will further take a closer look at the different types of maple trees and their sap qualities for tapping. But before then here is what makes maple trees so unique for syrup production.
What makes maple sap so good for syrup?
The sap is the lifeblood of a tree. It flows through the xylem vessels from the roots to the leaves, carrying water and nutrients to feed the tree. Almost all trees produce sap, but not all of them work in producing syrup.
Here are a few reasons why maple sap is good for syrup:
High Sugar Concentration
The goal of tapping a maple tree is to collect the sap so it can be boiled down and concentrated into a syrup.
This process requires a large volume of sap with a high sugar concentration. Maple sap has one of the highest sugar concentrations of almost any tree sap, making it ideal for syrup production.
This is mainly due to the fact that maple trees store a lot of carbohydrates in their trunk and roots over the winter.
When spring arrives and the temperatures start to rise, these carbohydrates turn into sugar and are sent up to the leaves as food.
The sugar concentration in the sap can vary from 1% to 5% depending on the species of the maple tree and the time of year. The sap collected early in the season typically has a lower sugar concentration, while sap collected later in the season has a higher sugar concentration.
The high sugar concentration as expected will increase the syrup’s sweetness and the overall yield of syrup from a given volume of sap.
Long Tapping Season
Tapping season is the time of year when the sap is flowing and can be collected.
For maple trees, this season typically runs from late February to early April in the northern hemisphere. This is one of the longest tapping seasons for any tree, giving syrup producers a long window to collect sap and produce syrup.
The length of the tapping season is determined by a few factors, the most important being the freeze-thaw cycle.
This is when temperatures rise above freezing during the day and then fall below freezing at night. This cycle helps to break down the cellular structure of the tree, allowing the sap to flow more easily.
The ideal conditions for sap flow are a few days in a row with daytime highs above freezing and nighttime lows below freezing. This cycle helps the sap to flow more freely and allows for a longer tapping season.
Most other trees can only produce sap for a few weeks at most, maple sap flows for several weeks or even a couple of months.
This long-tapping season means maple syrup producers can collect large quantities of sap and make a lot of syrup.
Maples produce plenty of sap
Maple trees also produce a lot of sap that flows freely. Maple trees can produce 35 to 50 liters (9.2 to 13.2 US gal) of sap per season. However, most trees cannot produce more than 12 liters (3.2 US gal) per day.
This is a lot of sap that most other trees cannot match. This high sap production means that maple syrup producers can tap a large number of trees and still collect enough sap to produce a lot of syrup.
It also means that producers can tap trees more than once during the season and still collect a large quantity of sap.
Maple sap is also relatively free of impurities. That means it does not need to be filtered as much as sap from other trees before it can be boiled down into syrup.
Maples recover quickly
Maple trees can quickly recover from being tapped and continue to produce sap for many years. When a tree is tapped, a small hole is drilled into the trunk and a spout is inserted. The sap will flow out of this spout and into a container.
While this might seem like it would harm the tree, maple trees are very resilient and can handle being tapped year after year with no long-term effects.
Most other trees cannot be tapped more than once and recovery of these trees can take years.
Some trees, such as birch and elm, will die if they are tapped too often. This is one more reason why maples are the best trees for syrup production.
Contains extra nutrients
Typically, the sap contains high concentrations of sucrose, which is the sugar that is transformed into maple syrup.
In addition, maple sap also contains small amounts of other sugars, such as glucose and fructose, as well as minerals like potassium and magnesium.
All of these nutrients help to give maple syrup its unique flavor and make it a healthier sweetener than other options, like cane sugar.
It has a delicate flavor
Maple syrup has a delicate, yet complex flavor that is unlike any other sweetener. It has a unique sweetness that is not as cloying as cane sugar and a slight hint of maple flavor. That is why it is loved by many people.
The different types of maple trees produce syrups with different flavors, but they all have that characteristic maple flavor that we know and love.
Although other trees can produce syrup, only a handful can match the flavor, quality, and quantity of maple syrup.
Plenty of maple trees
There are also plenty of maple trees in North America including sugar maple, black maple, red maple, and silver maple. This means that there is a large supply of sap for syrup production.
This is a big reason why maple syrup is so popular in North America and why it is such a large industry. In fact, Canada by itself produces 85% of the world’s maple syrup.
Versatile syrup with multiple uses
Maple syrup is a delicious, healthy, and versatile product that comes from tapping the sap of maple trees.
It can be used in all sorts of recipes, from pancakes and waffles to main dishes and desserts. It can sweeten coffee and tea or be used as a healthier alternative to sugar.
Why does sap from different maple trees have different properties?
The sap from different maple trees has different properties because the sap from each tree is slightly different. In fact, the sap from the same tree can vary depending on the time of year and the weather.
Considering there are many different types of maple trees, it is not surprising that the sap from each tree has different properties. The growing conditions, climate, and soil all play a role in the composition of the sap.
Maple trees that grow in colder climates tend to have higher sugar content in their sap. This is because the trees need to produce more sugar to survive the cold winters.
Conversely, maple trees that grow in warmer climates tend to have lower sugar content in their sap. This is because the trees do not need to produce as much sugar to survive the warm winters.
Type of Soil
Similarly, the sap from maple trees that grow in sandy soils tends to be lower in sugar than the sap from maple trees that grow in clay soils.
This is because the Sandy soil does not retain as much moisture as clay soil. Insufficient moisture can lead to lower sugar content in the sap.
Type of tree
The type of tree also plays a role in the sap’s properties. For example, the sap from a sugar maple tree is typically sweeter than the sap from a black maple tree.
This is because the sugar maple has a higher concentration of sucrose in its sap.
Age of the tree
The age of the tree also affects the sap’s properties. generally, the sap from younger trees is sweeter than the sap from older trees. This is because the younger trees have a higher concentration of sucrose in their sap.
Time of the year
The time of year also affects the sap’s properties. The sap is typically sweeter in the spring because that is when the tree produces more sap. The sap is typically less sweet in the fall because the tree produces less sap.
The minerals and other compounds in the sap vary depending on the type of soil that the tree is growing in, as well as the climate and other environmental factors.
Each type of maple tree uses different nutrients to produce its sap, which gives it its unique flavor and color.
What are the types of maple trees and their sap qualities?
There are many different types of maple trees and they all have different sap qualities. We will go over the most common types of maple trees and their sap qualities in this section.
Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum)
Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is native to the hardwood woods of eastern Canada and the eastern United States. It is well recognized for being the principal source of maple syrup and for its vibrantly colored fall foliage.
When referring to the wood, it may alternatively be referred to as “rock maple,” “sugar tree,” “birds-eye maple,” “sweet maple,” “curly maple,” or “hard maple.”
Sugar maples have medium to dark green leaves that turn yellow, orange, and red in the fall. They can grow in partial shade but prefer full sun. They require nutrient-rich, moist, well-drained soils.
Sugar maple trees cannot grow well in salty soils. Therefore, if the salt concentration in the soil is high, it will stunt the growth of sugar maples.
These trees are also sensitive to drought and need a lot of water, especially when they are young.
Sugar maple trees can reach a height of 60 to 75 feet and a width of 40 to 50 feet. They should be planted in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3-8 for best results.
They are slow to moderate growers, typically growing less than 12″ to 24″ per year.
The sap of the sugar maple has the highest sugar content. Also, the sugar maple offers a larger volume of sap than any other maple tree. The sap of the sugar maple is usually clear with a slight greenish tint and has a slightly sweeter flavor.
Sugar maples are by far the most preferred species for maple syrup. They have the most sugar content, yield, and sugaring season.
Black Maples (Acer nigrum)
Black maples were earlier considered a unique species but nowadays they are classified as a subspecies of sugar maple. The tree has a dense, rounded crown, dark, furrowed bark, and magnificent fall color, all of which it shares.
Black maple trees have dark green leaves that turn yellow or reddish-purple in the fall. They can grow in full sun or partial shade.
Black maples need moist, well-drained soils that are high in organic matter. They cannot tolerate drought or salt and will not grow in salty soils. These trees are also sensitive to pollution.
The tree can reach a height of 80 to 100 feet and a width of 40 to 60 feet. It should be planted in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4-8 where it will do best.
The sap of the black maple has a slightly lower sugar content than the sap of the sugar maple. It is usually a little darker in color and has a strong, slightly bitter flavor.
Black maples, which are often confused with sugar maples, generate sap that is extremely similar to that of sugar maples.
It’s almost as sweet, and the trees bear fruit at about the same time. They have a more limited spread and can be found in Illinois and the Great Lakes states.
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
Red maple has green stems that turn red in the winter and new red-tinged leaves that turn green. The leaves turn a deep red or yellow color in the fall. The tree has red flowers that bloom in the spring before the leaves appear.
The tree can grow to be 40′ to 60′ tall and 40′ wide. The tree thrives in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9. It grows at a medium to fast rate rapid rate of 13″ to more than 24″ per year.
The red maple tree grows best in full sun, which typically means it needs at least six hours of full, unfiltered sunlight per day.
They thrive on acidic, loamy, wet, rich soils that are sandy, silty loam, well-drained, and clay. The trees often need moist soil but can tolerate little drought better than other maples.
The fruits (samaras) of the red maple tree provide an important food source for wildlife. Rabbits, squirrels, and other rodents eat the fruits in winter when other food sources are scarce.
It might be tough to distinguish a red maple from a sugar maple in the fall unless you’ve marked the trees.
Red maple sap contains a lot of sugar, although not as much as sugar maple sap. It is estimated to contain 1.5 – 2% sugar (as compared to 2 – 2.5% for sugar and black maples).
Red maples thrive in wet and waterlogged soils that aren’t ideal for sugar maples. So they’re used for maple syrup production when sugar maples aren’t an option.
Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)
The silver maple is a fast-growing tree that can grow more than 24 inches per year.
The tree’s leaves are green on top and silvery-white on the underside, and they shimmer and dance in the breeze. The tree can withstand a variety of soil conditions.
Because of its extensive root system, the tree should be planted at least 10 feet away from sidewalks, drives, foundations, and sewer lines. Silver maple can grow to a height of 50′ to 80′ and a spread of 35′ to 50′. The tree grows best in USDA hardiness zones 3–9.
Silver maple prefers a mix of full sun and partial shade. This means that the tree prefers at least four hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight per day. While the rest of the day it can be in partial shade, such as beneath other trees.
Silver maples have more pointed leaves than sugar maples, which makes them particularly attractive-looking. When the wind blows through the trees, the leaves take on a silvery hue.
Silver maples, like red maples, tend to leaf out early in the spring, which reduces the time available for sugaring.
Silver maple sap contains just about %1.7 sugar on average (as compared to 2 percent to 2.5% in sugar maples). The resulting syrup is lighter in color and thinner.
When silver maples are harvested, they produce a large number of extra minerals that need to be removed from the final product. For me, this is a great way to get my daily dose of minerals.
Despite this, silver maple is a hindrance in commercial operations due to its tendency to clog up the machinery.
Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)
Norway maples were introduced to North America in the mid-1700s as ornamental trees. The Norway maple was brought to the United States for its aesthetic value and usefulness as a shade tree.
The Norway maple is an aggressive species that can quickly spread and overtake an area, crowding out native trees and shrubs.
This ability to outcompete native vegetation has made Norway maple one of the most invasive species in North America.
They are large deciduous trees with a broad crown that can reach a height of 12-18 m. (40-60 ft). The tree’s leaves are maple-like, and they turn yellow or brown in the fall.
The tree’s bark is smooth and gray when young, but it becomes rough and scaly with age. The tree produces small, greenish flowers that bloom in the spring before the leaves appear.
These trees produce a large number of winged seeds that are easily dispersed and germinated by the wind.
Norway maples are tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, but they prefer moist, well-drained soils. The tree grows best in full sun, but it will also tolerate partial shade.
Norway maples are sometimes tapped for syrup, but they are not considered a desirable species for this purpose because of their low sugar content and invasiveness.
Sap sugar content for Norway maples is about %1.25 on average (sugar maples are about double that).
Its syrup tastes similar to sugar maple syrup since Norway maples are in the same family, but it is less sweet and has a more bitter aftertaste.
Boxelder (Acer negundo)
Boxelder (Acer negundo) is a fast-growing maple tree native to the United States. The tree can grow to a height of 10–25 meters (35–80 feet), with a trunk diameter of 30–50 centimeters (12–20 inches).
The tree often has multiple trunks and can form dense thickets. Boxelder has a typical lifespan of only 60 years. However, it has the potential to live for 100 years under ideal conditions.
Boxelders are a small, scrubby variety of maple that is widely grown in northern Canada, where land is scarce and prime trees are harder to come by than elsewhere.
The sap sugar content of boxelders is low, around %1.25 on average. This means that it takes a lot more sap to make the same amount of syrup as compared to sugar maple.
Also, each tree produces less than a large sugar maple because Boxeelders are typically smaller trees.
They’re commonly employed to make syrup when the soil is unsuitable for other crops. Its syrup has a sorghum-like flavor, so it’s not quite as mapley as you’re used to. It is also darker in color and has a more pronounced flavor.
Bigleaf Maple (Acer Macrophyllum)
The bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), also known as Oregon maple, is a deciduous, long-lived tree native to the Pacific Northwest. Its palmate leaves, have five lobes and are shaped like palms.
The bigleaf maple tree is a large deciduous tree. It matures to be about 50 feet (15 meters) tall, but it can grow to be more than 80 feet (20 meters), making it the largest maple species in North America.
The tree has a large, spreading canopy that can provide shade for an entire yard.
Because bigleaf maple is deeply rooted, it has a low susceptibility to windthrow.
Bigleaf maples have a lifespan of 50 to 200 years. Bigleaf maple can withstand short-term flooding and can survive flooding in both active and upper stream channels.
However, it cannot withstand prolonged flooding. In British Columbia, Brink noticed that bigleaf maples died after 100-year floods on the Fraser and Columbia rivers in 1948. Floods that last two months or more kill bigleaf maples of all ages.
The tree has iconic leaves that are large, palm-shaped, and have five lobes which distinguish it from other maple species.
A mature bigleaf maple in a streamside mix of hardwood and conifer trees is likely to be covered in mosses, lichens, and ferns.
It can be found in coastal ranges from Alaska to California, mostly west of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada crests, where it grows in the low- to mid-elevations of coastal ranges.
Although it can grow on dry or moist soil, it prefers riverbeds and the foothills of mountains, where it thrives.
Bigleaf maples provide food for a wide range of animals and plants. Its leaves, young twigs, and seedlings are grazed by deer and elk. Its seeds are eaten by squirrels, chipmunks, and some birds, such as the evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus).
The sugar content of bigleaf maples is about %1 on average, which is one of the lowest of all maples. This means that it takes even more sap to produce syrup from bigleaf maples than from other maple species.
Bigtooth Maple (Acer grandidentatum)
The bigtooth maple is a large, broadleaf shrub or small tree with a spreading, rounded crown.
At maturity, it will stand 35 feet tall and have a diameter of 9 inches. Wind-carried seeds in winged samaras are used to reproduce. The tree’s flowers are tiny and yellowish, blooming in clusters in early spring.
Bigtooth maple flowers only every 2-3 years on average. The fruits are classic maple double samaras. Two seeds are joined at one end, with expanded wings extending from the other. In opposing pairs, the leaves emerge from the twigs.
The leaf is roughly spherical in form, about 4 inches around, with many blunt teeth along the edges. The leaf has three or five lobes that fan out from the place where the leaf stalk connects to the leaf.
Young twigs are smooth and slender, ranging from bright red to greenish-brown.
Gray twigs are found on older trees. Buds are reddish in hue and appear in bunches. The bark is thin and scaly, with shallow furrows and grayish flat-topped ridges. The wood is tough, strong, and light brown in color.
Bigtooth maple is found in the western United States and is similar to sugar maple. The tree will only produce sap if the overnight temperatures are below freezing and the daytime highs are in the 40s.
The sugar content of bigtooth maple is about %1.5 on average, which is lower than sugar maple but higher than bigleaf maple. The sap of the bigtooth maple has a moderately high sugar content and is fine for making syrup.
Striped Maple is a slow-growing understory tree that rarely grows taller than twenty or thirty feet and is commonly found as a shrub. The trunk is usually small and branched, with a few rising, arching branches.
The bark of a striped maple is smooth and green or greenish-brown. Long white or pale vertical lines run through it.
The bark of the tree grows to a reddish-brown color with heavy vertical stripes. The twigs are green and hairless, with whitish lines running through them.
Striped Maples, like other maples, have opposing, lobed leaves. The Striped Maple’s leaves are big, thin, and slightly papery. They typically feature three triangular, forward-facing lobes and a big central lobe.
The leaves’ edges are sharply serrated. The leaf’s base is spherical or somewhat heart-shaped. Striped Maple leaves are a deep yellow-green and smooth on top, turning yellow in the fall.
The sugar content of striped maple is about %1.25 on average, which is comparable to bigtooth maple.
Gorosoe (Acer mono)
Gorosoe is a maple that is tapped in Korea. This tree’s sap has been collected for millennia, but it is not usually cooked down into syrup.
The sap is consumed in South Korea for its health benefits. There is a slight sweetness to gorosoe sap, and it tastes a lot like a weak cup of green tea.
The sugar content of gorosoe is about %1.5 on average, which is lower than sugar maple but higher than bigleaf maple.
There are many different types of maple trees, and each one has its own unique sap qualities. The sugar content of the sap varies from tree to tree, with some maples having a higher sugar content than others.
The type of maple tree you choose to tap for syrup will depend on your personal preferences.
The numbers in this post are only meant to give you an idea of the average sugar content in each type of maple sap. The actual sugar content of the sap will vary depending on the tree’s environment and conditions.
When it comes to tapped maple syrup, it is equally important to choose a tree that hasn’t been polluted by herbicides, fungicides, or other chemicals.
The best way to do this is to tap a tree that is in a remote location, away from any potential sources of contamination.