Now you’re ready to tap the sap.
Sugar Maples at Bates
Walking through a New England forest in summertime, the most brilliant green of the forest canopy always seems to come from maple leaves. Their dense growth of bright green leaves provide pleasant shade in summer, a rich palette of ochre and crimson in the fall, and in late winter, some maples give us a memorable treat.
Maple syrup and sugar are some of the most iconic foods associated with New England. Each year, producers harvest maple sap from trees across the region to collect and process. But the trees themselves are iconic too; their leaf adorns the red and white flag of Canada, and in the summer, are one of the easiest trees to identify due to their distinctive leaf shape. Other types of maples found in Massachusetts forest include black, silver, and red maples. In this hilltop forest of Bates, the sugar maples stand out for their impressive size and breadth, especially when compared with other trees in the forest.
Sap production is not unique to sugar maples. In fact, all trees have liquid moving through their trunks and up to their leaves, and liquids within the trees can move laterally as well. What makes sap “rise” on warm days in late winter, when it’s tapped through small holes and harvested to boil down into syrup? It’s the basic functioning of the tree, which draws liquids and nutrients up from the roots to the leaves. The warm days and cool nights of February and early March trigger a temperature change in the tree that increases internal pressure, causing sap to run when a sugar maple is tapped, much as your finger might bleed from a pinprick.
Climate change has had an impact on sugar maples. Groton is at the edge of the range where sugar maples grow in the Eastern US, but as climate impacts continue, the range of sugar maples is likely to shrink. Like many trees, sugar maples are vulnerable to the more frequent droughts, decreasing winter snowpack, and warmer summer temperatures that have increased in New England as a result of climate change.
Photo: Sugar maple bark, seed, leaf, and twig. Sourced from: Massachusetts Maple Producers Association Tree Identification
To learn more about Maple Trees:
- Identifying sugar maples and other maples: https://www.massmaple.org/about-maple-syrup/make-maple-syrup/maple-tree-id/
- Scientific info: https://gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org/species/acer/saccharum/
- Distribution of sugar maples in Eastern US: https://www.fs.fed.us/nrs/atlas/tree/318
- Video about maple syrup production: https://www.cornell.edu/video/history-and-production-of-maple-syrup
More about climate impacts on sugar maples:
More about Bates:
Some questions to consider:
Why are the maple trees at Bates larger than many other trees in the area?
What makes the bark of the maple tree distinctive?
What does it mean when we say leaves grow “opposite” versus “alternate”?