Sugar Maple Trees

Posted by: billstephenson

Sugar Maple Trees - 01/08/13 12:04 PM

Last year one of my neighbors invited me to collect sap for maple syrup on his property. Since then I've been looking for Sugar Maples around where I live. So far I haven't found it very easy to identify them in the winter, but while hiking yesterday afternoon with my neighbors in the hollow below our properties I'm sure I found a big one, about 24-30 inches in diameter. It's in the very bottom of the wet weather creekbed down there and the lower part of the trunk is ringed with holes drilled by woodpeckers. It's a really cool tree and there were the classic maple leaves under it so I know I finally found one.

After I got home I decided to do a little web work to learn more about Sugar Maples and what I found was pretty stunning to me. They're a really slow growing tree. A Sugar Maple that big can be 300-400 years old. I had no idea that is the case.

We're right on the edge of the range for those trees, so I have to suspect not many big ones are around here anymore. This one is in a spot that's way back in a steep and narrow hollow where it would never be cut by loggers, and it's just above the flood line of the Lake sitting on public land (Army Corps/Missouri Dept of Conservation), and most all of that land hasn't been touched for about 60 years now.

I've been looking for big Sugar Maple trees like this one, but I had no idea how rare they are. The guy I went with has a farm that's been there for probably 200 years, and those trees on that land have probably never been molested in all that time, and he has a grove of them, so I thought that's what they all looked like.

I'd be lucky to find one that's 6 inches in diameter on our property, it take 30-40 years for them to grow that big.

I'm going to call the corps to see if I can tap it. I doubt it, they're pretty persnickety about doing anything on that land, but I bet I could get at least a couple gallons of sap out of that tree, which would yield about a pint of syrup.

Posted by: Dryer

Re: Sugar Maple Trees - 01/08/13 12:12 PM

I had no idea it took that long for those things to grow. My wife's family is in a northern part of Ohio where maple sugar is an industry. I know I've seen the things planted in rows, so those must have been planted decades ago.
I've got red oaks and Burr oaks in my nature preserve that are 3-4ft caliper trees and are probably less than 100 years old. Much fast growing than maples, apparently.

Aren't you a little squeamish about tapping a 400 year old tree?? confused
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Sugar Maple Trees - 01/08/13 02:05 PM

Aren't you a little squeamish about tapping a 400 year old tree??


I'm still learning about it. What I do know is that woodpeckers and people have been tapping them for a long time. I could see tapper holes that had healed in trees I helped tap last year, and I asked about them, and if the hole did any damage. I was told they heal fast, he pointed out the scars of holes he'd drilled about ten years ago. and said to not drill the same spot every year.

But I still haven't convinced myself I can tap that tree. I'm a tree hugger at heart, always have been. So I'll look into it some more. The woodpeckers are a lot better at finding them than me, so I don't think I have to shoulder any guilt about stealing from them, but I could never harm the tree.
Posted by: Dryer

Re: Sugar Maple Trees - 01/08/13 02:46 PM

Apparently they can take a lot of abuse if done right. I've seen arborists core drill really old trees and pull out a plug, just to count the rings and assess disease. I don't know if they replace the plug (which goes to the center of the tree!!) or not. Tree doesn't seem to mind. Still...a tree that was there before the white man. Amazing.
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Sugar Maple Trees - 01/08/13 03:07 PM

That's what I found too. I also found you can't tap trees on Missour Dept of Conversation land, and they've leased it from the Corps. I know there are limits on the rules they can impose on that land, but tapping trees is probably not one of the things they can't limit.

And yeah, I agree, it seems just wrong to drill a hole in that tree. It was the woodpeckers that got me to thinking about it. I'm ashamed frown blush grin
Posted by: Heather-ak

Re: Sugar Maple Trees - 01/08/13 03:52 PM

We are hopefully tapping at least one birch tree this spring. We are only doing one to see if we want to bother with the work another year (proof of concept smile.) I know the tree is ruined for lumber after being tapped but no other damage that I know about.

I have heard that the maple tree range is slowly moving north, though it isn't as far north as us yet grin
Posted by: Pika

Re: Sugar Maple Trees - 01/08/13 05:40 PM

The tool used to take a core from a tree is called an increment borer. In forestry they are used to get information about tree growth rate and tree age. If not properly used, an increment borer can introduce fungal heart-rot into a tree: so can tapping a maple for syrup. The removed core is not replaced.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Sugar Maple Trees - 01/08/13 06:15 PM

Just a warning that it takes a LOT of sap and a lot of boiling for an itty-bitty amount of syrup!
Posted by: Dryer

Re: Sugar Maple Trees - 01/08/13 07:16 PM

The removed core is not replaced.

Ouch! Poor tree! eek No plug???
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Sugar Maple Trees - 01/08/13 08:21 PM

I read and learned a lot more today. My daughter came over while I was reading and we decided to hike down into the hollow again. She spotted at least a half dozen mature maples down where I found the big one, and there are probably hundreds of small ones on our property. I found some that are in the 20-30s on our land, but only one so far that's old enough to tap. It's a good sized one too, right on the corner of the property at the bottom of the hollow. I might have a few more that sit along the edge of the hollow, I'll check in a few more days.

Some of them down there were riddled with woodpecker holes and literally dripping with sap. You could wet your finger with it and taste the sweetness. These trees also had ants collecting sap, they were all over the wet spots.

Apparently, the temps have to drop below freezing at night, and get up into the 40's in the day, for the trees to produce sap. The more days you have like that the more sap you'll get, but the sweetest sap is what comes early.

For here, mid-January is when you want to start collecting. We've had a run of days with temps that fit the bill here so that explains the trees we saw today that were all wet with sap. We're heading into a short warm spell, and then back to perfect tapping weather, so if I find a couple more big trees on our land I might gather some up.

The truths is, here where I'm at in the Ozarks we'll be the first to see the end of being able to collect sap, and we may not have many, if any, Sugar Maples at all here in another 100 years. If I collect sap and make syrup I could well be one of the very last to have done it here.

On the other hand, if things manage to get back to normal our property has a lot of young Sugar Maples on it, so there may be some things I can do to help those along, and hopefully keep the sap flowing. That would be good. From what I've read, our native americans showed the europeans how to collect it and cook it down into syrup and sugar. It's one of the few things that europeans learned from them and founded an industry on. I do feel compelled to do it because of that.

But I will leave that big old maple unmolested. It's just too awesome to consider drilling a hole into. It's at least 30+ inches in diameter at chest height and must be at least several hundred years old and it barely escaped being killed by the lake during flood years. It's really an amazing tree.

My daughter took a few pictures of the trunk of the big tree where the rings from woodpecker holes have scarred it. It's really pretty cool looking, they give the old tree a lot of character, and she also took some pictures of others that were all wet with sap. I'll post them when I get them from her.
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Sugar Maple Trees - 01/08/13 08:25 PM

Originally Posted By OregonMouse
Just a warning that it takes a LOT of sap and a lot of boiling for an itty-bitty amount of syrup!

That's a perfect warning OM. grin

I read today that it's about 40 to 1 sap to syrup. I'm thinking in terms of making a pint or two, and would consider that much a huge success laugh
Posted by: hikerduane

Re: Sugar Maple Trees - 01/08/13 10:21 PM

I've had Silver Maples lose a limb due to snowload, and then have it drip sap and when I pruned off a good sized branch also. The sap suckers love my Norway maples as well, then I also have Alder growing on my property which they try to ring. I planted all the maples except a few native Big Leaf maples, in my early years of property ownership, I stuck with transplanting native shrubbery and trees as they were free.
Posted by: Dryer

Re: Sugar Maple Trees - 01/09/13 09:51 AM

Silver maples....I have three on my lot, planted by the builder 26 years ago. Here, Silver maples are considered "trash trees" because they grow quickly but die after 15-20 years. All three of mine are sickly (but big!) and a bore magnet. I'm constantly spraying something on them and picking up dropped branches. I've never understood their relation to sugar maples.
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Sugar Maple Trees - 01/09/13 01:05 PM

This pic is a close up of the sap drenched bark on one of the trees we found yesterday. The trunks are black and wet looking from the sap, that's really the easiest way to identify them. You can (sort of) see the ants on this one (there's a couple on the upper left):

And this is the big old maple, you can see the rings from the woodpecker holes near the bottom of the trunk. That vine on it is huge, about 6 inches in diameter, it looks almost like a branch of the tree in this pic, but it actually clings to a branch about 30 ft above:

And here's close up of the bark, you can see that the woodpeckers have been working this one for a long time:

Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Sugar Maple Trees - 01/09/13 01:14 PM

This deadfall was just a few yards away from the big maple. I don't know what kind of tree this was, but it's just covered with these mushrooms and I liked the picture so I though I'd post it too: