|Shape and Distribution
Sugar maple, also known as hard maple or rock maple, is a medium to large tree, from 70 to 90 feet tall. The trunk is relatively short, up to 3 feet in diameter, and the branches are numerous and spreading, forming a large, rounded crown. Sugar maple grows in ever county in Illinois and prefers moist, mesic forests. It is an important component of the eastern deciduous forest. Its range extends from New Foundland across to Manitoba in the north, south to eastern Texas and east to Florida.
Sugar maple is one of the most valuable hardwoods from a commercial standpoint. It provides a variety of patterned wood for lumber and for furniture (tiger maple, birdseye maple, and curly maple, for example). The tree also produces the sap for maple syrup. Black maple (Acer nigrum) is very similar to sugar maple, producing the same interesting patterned wood and sap that can be made into palatable maple syrup.
Sugar maple bark is gray to dark brown and moderately thick. It is smooth when young, becoming furrowed with age. The twigs are slender, smooth and reddish brown, with obvious lenticels on younger portions. The buds are ¼ inch long, smooth or slightly hairy, and brown.
Sugar maple leaves are simple and opposite. They are up to 5 inches long and are 3 to 5 (palmately) lobed with coarsely toothed margins. They are dark green and smooth on the upper surface, paler on the underside, and either smooth or hairy along the veins. The leafstalks are up to 3 inches long and are sometimes hairy.
Male and female flowers are borne separately, sometimes on different trees. They appear in yellowish green clusters in early spring when the leaves begin to unfold.
The fruits are borne in winged pairs with a seed at the base of each wing in the pair. The wings are up to an inch long, yellow or green, sometimes brownish.
Sugar maple wood is heavy, strong, and attractive. It is used for cabinets, furniture, and interior finishing. Maple syrup is made from the sap and wildlife consumes the fruits/seeds. Sugar maple is also widely planted as an ornamental. Its leaves turn vivid shades of yellow and red in the fall.