Anyone who has seen maples in full fall color will long remember their brilliant yellow, scarlet, and orange. The autumn color show alone would be enough to make the maple a treasured tree, but its usefulness as a source of everything from maple sugar to fine lumber ensures maple’s place in American culture and history. Among this family of medium to large trees, with their crowns of ascending limbs, can be found some of this country’s outstanding shade and ornamental trees. The United States has 13 native maples, with at least one species native to every state except Hawaii.
The Maple’s Place in History
The earliest French and English settlers were quick to learn the bounty of maples from the eastern Native American tribes. These pioneers were soon making their own maple sugar and syrup from the sweet sap of the sugar maple. From the red maple, they learned to make ink and dyes. And today as in early times, maple wood is a favorite choice for fine furniture, cabinetry, flooring, and household utensils.
Some Common Species
Red maple (Acer rubrum), one of America’s most striking shade and ornamental trees, takes its name from its scarlet hues throughout the year. Crimson flowers and leaves emerge in the spring, while summer leafstalks gleam a bright red. In the fall, leaves are painted in brilliant yellow, orange, and scarlet. And even in winter, this lovely tree’s buds show vibrant red against the seasonal grayness. Red maple grows naturally throughout the eastern United States, extending westward to Minnesota, the central regions of Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, and into Illinois. (Grows in hardiness zones 3 to 9.)
To some, the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is best known for its sweet sap, which is turned into more than a million gallons of finished maple syrup each year in the United States. Others praise the tree for its hard, strong wood. And still others see in this magnificent tree the very emblem of fall, as its leaves revel in unmatched autumn color. For many reasons, this tall tree, with its dense, shading canopy, has a place of honor across New England and throughout much of the East, growing naturally in every state east of the Mississippi River except Florida. (Grows in hardiness zones 3 to 8.)