Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 494 Acer saccharum

Common Names: sugar maple, rock maple, hard maple Family: Aceraceae (maple Family)
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It's early October in southern Ohio and this sugar maple has beat its neighbors in donning its autumn colors which range from yellow to orange to red - sometimes on the same tree!


Sugar maple is a large tree, often 80 ft (24 m) or more tall with a trunk up to 3 ft (0.9 m) in diameter. It has a large, dense and rounded crown and is one of the giants of the forest. Its leaves are opposite, palmately lobed and deciduous. Sugar maple has deeply furrowed gray bark which turns almost black when wet. The fruits of the sugar maple are called winged samaras and appear before the tree leafs out in early spring. You may have played with them as a schoolchild - we called them helicopters and dropped them from heights to watch them whirligig to the ground. There are dozens of named cultivars of sugar maple, selected for fall color, shape, leaf characteristics, size, hardiness or sugar production.

sugar maple's autumn leaves
Sugar maple's firey fall foliage is one of the brightest and most colorful of any species.


Sugar maple occurs in North America from Newfoundland, west to Manitoba, south through the Dakotas to Texas and Louisiana, and east in the higher elevations through Alabama and Virginia. Sugar maple is most abundant on moist rich soils on slopes and ridges, where it grows in mixed hardwood forests. There are several regional sup-species some of which may be considered separate species by some authorities.


Light: Sugar maple is quite shade tolerant. Moisture: Sugar maple does best on moist, but well drained sites. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 8. 'Legacy' is one of the most heat tolerant cultivars. Propagation: Sugar maple is propagated from seeds which must be cold stratified. The cultivars are budded onto seedling rootstock.


Sugar maple is a large, fast growing deciduous tree that provides abundant shade and beautiful fall foliage. This is an excellent tree for larger landscapes, parks, and estates. It is not particularly tolerant of air pollution, though. It's an important timber tree in the forest products trade, as well as the source of maple syrup and sugar, a major industry in the northeastern U.S. The sap is tapped from the trees in early spring, then boiled down until it is thick enough to be called syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Don't try this in the kitchen - you'll have a layer of sticky film on the walls and ceiling. Charcoal made from sugar maple is used to "mellow" Jack Daniels® whiskey.

Southern relatives of sugar maple should be used in the deep south, as sugar maple does not tolerate heat well. Good substitutes could be Florida maple (Acer barbatum) or red maple (Acer rubrum)

sugar maple bark
Sugar maple bark on a tree at the Mount Airy Forest Arboretum in Cincinnati, Ohio.


The maple leaf flies proudly on the Canadian flag and is prominently displayed as the classic shape for maple sugar candy. With shades from yellow to scarlet to blaze orange, the sugar maple's fall foliage display is dependable to the point of becoming an important tourist attraction - especially in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada.

Jack Scheper 10/30/98; updated sc 11/27/99, 10/29/00, 2/9/04, 10/7/06

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Acer species profiled on Floridata:

Acer buergerianum

( trident maple,three-toothed maple )

Acer campestre

( hedge maple,field maple )

Acer ginnala

( Amur maple )

Acer griseum

( paperbark maple )

Acer negundo

( boxelder, ash-leaf maple, Manitoba maple )

Acer palmatum

( Japanese maple )

Acer platanoides

( Norway maple )

Acer rubrum

( red maple, swamp maple, Carolina red maple )

Acer saccharinum

( silver maple, soft maple, white maple, river maple )

Acer saccharum

( sugar maple, rock maple, hard maple )

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