Height: Rarely more than 60 feet tall
Lifespan: Unclear; close relatives suggest it may live 200 year or more
Fall Foliage: Awesome; usually yellow, but can also be orange or red
Range: Arkansas to North Carolina, including portions of the piedmont and coastal plain; only found in the northernmost portion of Florida
Typical Habitat: Typically found in the understory of cool, moist forests, but it’s adaptable and also planted as a shade tree
The Southern Sugar Maple: The Southern Version of a Northern Icon
As discussed in our account of the sugar maple (Acer saccharum), these two species share a close evolutionary relationship.
Everyone agrees about that but there isn’t a great deal of consensus regarding the best classification scheme for the two. Some suggest that they’re different subspecies of a single species, some treat them as geographic variants, and still others consider them two distinct species.
Regardless of the classification scheme you prefer, these two species are quite similar. However, the southern form is usually smaller and much better adapted to warm temperatures.
The Southern Sugar Maple Identification: Tips & Tricks
The southern sugar maple is easy to recognize as a maple, given the general shape of the leaf and the tree’s beautiful fall foliage. Accordingly, the species you’ll typically be trying to distinguish it from is the northern maple.
Southern sugar maple leaves are almost always smaller than those of its northern counterpart. If the tree’s mature leaves are less than 3 inches long, you’re probably looking at a southern sugar maple. You can also note the undersides of the leaves, which are hairy in the southern form and generally hairless (or with hairs only around the leaf veins) in the northern maple.
The Southern Sugar Maple: Additional Information
The Florida maple is a really interesting species that doesn’t get the ink it deserves. Treat yourself to some new info with these resources:
- Florida IFAS Extension: A fairly comprehensive guide to the species including a range map, photographs, and horticultural notes.
- North Carolina State Extension: A quick-and-handy info table that includes everything from growing needs to wildlife relationships.
- Backyard Nature: An interesting resource with a refreshing tone that provides an excellent photo of the hairs found on the bottom of southern sugar maple leaves.