Sugar maple

Érable à sucre

Acer saccharum Marsh.Sapindaceae (soapberry family)

Origin: Eastern North America (native in Ontario)


Sugar maple is a large tree with upward reaching branches and a rounded crown.

Read more about Tree, Bark, Twigs


Leaves are palmately lobed with 5 lobes with long-tapering tips.

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Tiny petalless flowers dangle in clusters in early spring.

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Fruits are pairs of winged seeds (samaras or keys).

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Sugar maple is a large tree 35 m (115') or more high and up to 150 cm (5') in diameter.

Trees have a straight trunk, branches that narrowly angle upwards to form a symmetrical rounded crown.

Young bark is smooth and grey

Mature bark darkens with age, and develops vertical ridges, which may curl outward on one side.

Twigs are shiny, hairless, and olive green or reddish-brown.

Terminal buds are pointed, 6 - 12 mm (1/4" - 1/2") long, with 6 to 8 pairs of slightly hairy bud scales. Opposite pairs of lateral buds are smaller than the terminal bud.

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Leaves are palmately lobed with 3 to 5 main lobes,with long-pointed tips. The central lobe is usually parallel sided. The base of the leaf varies from heart-shaped to flat.

Leaves are 8 - 20 cm (3" - 7 3/4") long, with a long leaf stalk 4 - 8 cm (1 1/2" - 3"). The underside of the leaf and the leaf stalk usually lack hairs.

Leaves and branches have an opposite arrangement.

In fall, the leaves turn a range of colours, from yellow to brilliant orange or bright red.

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Flowers are borne in dangling clusters on long stalks. Separate male and female flowers are clustered together, but mature at different times to avoid self pollination.

Flowers are small, greenish-yellow and petal-less.

Flowers open before the leaves in early May. Male flowers drop off and female flowers transform to fruit as the leaves emerge.

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Fruits are pairs of winged seeds (samaras also called keys) borne in clusters on long stalks. They turn from green to brown as they mature.

Each papery wing measures 3 - 3.5 cm (about 1 1/4") long. The wings diverge from parallel to form a narrow V.

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Sugar maple is a dominant tree of mixed- and deciduous- forests throughout Eastern North America.

Official status

Sugar maple is Canada's national tree. The sugar maple leaf appears in a stylized form on the Canadian flag and the Toronto Maple Leafs logo.


Sugar maples can grow to be 200 or more years old.

Derivation of names

The genus name Acer means sharp, referring to the sharp tips of the leaf lobes of most maples. The species and common names, saccharum and sugar, refer to the sweet sap from which syrup or sugar can be made.

Commercial use

The sap of sugar maple is used to make maple syrup and maple sugar. European colonists learned the skill of syrup-making from indigenous peoples. Sap is tapped from the trees in the late winter/early spring when nighttime temperatures are consistently below freezing and daytime temperatures rise above freezing, triggering the sap to flow during the day. Spouts are inserted through the bark into the sapwood to divert the sap that is rising up from the roots. Sap is collected in buckets or through a system of hoses, then boiled down until concentrated into syrup. It takes 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of syrup. About 27 litres of sap makes 1 pound of maple sugar. A single tree may produce up to about 225 litres of sap in one season.

Sugar maple is also highly valued for its hard, fine-grained wood, which is used for making furniture, musical instruments, veneer, cutting blocks, flooring, rolling pins and more.

Related species

Sugar maple is closely related toa and hybridizes with black maple (Acer nigrum). The central lobe of black maple leaves is broad with rounded shoulders, and the bottom lobes are reduced or absent. The lobes often droop giving the leaf a wilted appearance. The underside of the leaves and the leaf stalks are often covered in soft brown hairs, and their are a pair of stipules at the base of the leaf stalk.

Sugar maple is also regularly confused with the non-native Norway maple (Acer platanoides), which is widely planted in many urban areas. Norway maple leaves usually has an extra pair of lobes at the base, milky sap, visible when the leaf stalk is broken; flowers with 5 small petals and keys with wings held at 180 degrees. Especially in winter, the species can be distinguished by the bark. Sugar maple bark has vertical ridges that curl on one side while Norway maple bark has shallow, intersecting ridges in a regular, often diamond-shaped pattern.

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Sugar maple IN TORONTO

Sugar maple's place in Toronto's urban forest

Sugar maple is not commonly planted as a street tree due to its intolerance of heat and pollution. However it is an important component of Toronto's natural forests and is very visible throughout the ravines when its leaves turn colour. It is also planted in parks and large greenspaces like cemeteries.

Landscape value and potential for home planting

Sugar maple produces a spectacular display of fall colour varying from yellow to bright red. It grows best in well-drained, somewhat moist soil and requires considerable space, so small sites with shallow soil should be avoided. Dry conditions cause leaf scorch turning leaves brown. Pollution and road salt are also harmful and can weaken the tree's defenses against disease and insect pests.

Pests and diseases: Especially obvious in wet summers, sugar maple is susceptible to infection by a fungus called tar spot Rhytisma acerinum which is ugly but not usually damaging to the tree. For more information on this and other pests and diseases that affect sugar maple, visit Natural Resources Canada fact sheet.

This tree is available for planting through the the City of Toronto's street tree program and LEAF's backyard tree program.

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WHERE CAN I SEE Sugar maple?

Find trees on Tree Tour maps at Canadian Tree Tours:

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