Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

Height: 60 to 90 feet; occasionally (rarely) up to 150

Evergreen/Deciduous: Deciduous  

Lifespan: Fairly long-lived; up to 300 years, occasionally longer

Fall Foliage: Often spectacular red, orange, or gold; one of the most attractive trees in autumn

Range: The northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, west to Minnesota and Missouri (see further discussion below)

Typical Habitat: Very adaptable; lives just about anywhere that’s not flooded or characterized by saturated soils, and very shade tolerant   

The Sugar Maple: Lots to Love  

The sugar maple is one of the most celebrated trees in the world, and it’s easy to see why. It’s not only an important component of the forests in which it lives (in fact, it often forms pure stands in good habitat), but it’s also a very attractive tree, particularly in the autumn. Also, it obviously serves as an important source of maple syrup.

It is important to note that there’s some debate about the extent of this species’ range. Some authorities consider the closely related Florida or southern sugar maple (Acer floridanum) to be a distinct species, others consider it a subspecies of the sugar maple, and still others characterize it as a simple geographic variant. And no matter which treatment you prefer, one thing is clear: The two forms hybridize.

By and large, the difference between the two forms is inconsequential for amateur nature lovers. However, the sugar maple’s range depends on whether or not you consider the Florida maple a separate species.

If you consider the two forms to be different taxa, the sugar maple stops at the southern limit of the Appalachian Mountains; if you consider them the same species, it ranges into Georgia, the Florida Panhandle and west to east Texas. However, the sugar maple is widely planted as an ornamental, and may pop up outside its recognized range.

Sugar Maple Identification: Tips & Tricks

Sugar maples are pretty easy to identify via the leaves (though they are theoretically tricky to distinguish from Florida maples). Just look for the iconic leaf shape, which matches that of the Canadian flag.

The most challenging species to distinguish from the sugar maple is likely the Norway maple (Acer platanoides), which is native to Europe but occasionally found growing in the wild in the United States. However, while the sugar maple has rounded leaf tips, the Norway maple’s leave tips are sharply pointed.

The Sugar Maple Tree: Additional Information

Thanks to their popularity, sugar maple trees are the subject of countless resources and fact sheets. Check out a few of our favorites below:

  • U.S. Forest Service: A comprehensive guide to the sugar maple tree, including everything from growth habit and rate to genetic information.
  • North Carolina State Extension: A handy overview of sugar maple trees, including a number of high-quality photographs.    
  • Missouri Botanical Garden: A general guide to the species that provides horticultural information and hosts several gorgeous images of the tree.

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