Maples: a Diverse Group of Trees

Close up of tree buds.

It’s Maple Syrup Season

Many people have heard of the tree species sugar maple, it produces deliciously sweet sap that we turn into maple syrup. Conditions are ideal for tapping maple trees to collect sap when day temperatures are about plus five degrees Celsius and night temperatures are about minus five degrees Celsius.

Two trees with metal buckets hanging from them.
It takes 40 gallons of sap to yield one gallon of syrup.

Sugar maple trees are the most commonly tapped maple species because they have the highest concentration of sugar in their sap. But sugar maple is not the only maple species within the Credit River Watershed.

The watershed is home to twelve maple species (Acer species.). Eight of these are native species:

  • Sugar maple
  • Black maple
  • Red maple
  • Mountain maple
  • Manitoba maple
  • Striped maple
  • Silver maple
  • Hybrid maple

The other four are non-native species:

  • Hedge maple
  • Amur maple
  • Norway maple
  • Sycamore maple

Maples have a distinct leaf shape and fruit. Maples have leaves divided into three to five sections called lobes. The leaves are paired, meaning they are arranged opposite to each other on a branch. Maples have small flowers, that appear in spring and rely on wind to be pollinated. Maples have fruits called samaras, with a pair of seeds surrounded by two broad wings. In autumn, the fruits can be seen falling from the trees, spinning like a helicopter blade before landing on the ground.

Close-up of tree bud.
A maple tree samaras.

Discovering Other Maples

A sugar maple leaf is an iconic symbol in Canada. It’s featured at the centre of our national flag and, it’s the most dominant maple in the watershed. Let’s get to know some of the other native maples that are in the watershed.

Black Maple

Black maple is closely related to sugar maple. Although its leaves look similar to a sugar maple, black maple leaves are often droopy-looking, have a less defined shape and are hairy on the underside. Black maple can be found in moist soil and along watercourses.

Two leaves side by side.
A leaf comparison of black maple (left) and a sugar maple (right) in autumn.

Red Maple

Red maple is named after its red buds which are visible in spring, its red leaf stalk seen in summer and its beautiful red leaves in autumn. These maples are often found in moist soil such as swamps but can thrive in a wide variety of areas.

Close-up of a tree leaf.
A red maple leaf with red leaf stalks.

Mountain Maple

Mountain maple is Canada’s smallest maple. It has shrubby growth, often with multiple stems and is found in the understory of forests. Mountain maple grow in rocky slopes and streamsides. They play an important role in preventing erosion along streambanks and slopes.

Close-up of a tree leaf.
Leaf of a mountain maple.

Manitoba Maple

Manitoba Maple are also known as box elder. It’s the only maple in the watershed without the traditional maple leaf look. Its leaf is divided into three or five leaflets that closely resemble those of ash trees (Fraxinus species). It’s fast growing and short lived, often found in floodplains and stream banks.

Tree branch with several leaves on it.
Divided leaf of a Manitoba maple that resembles ash tree leaves.

CVC’s Integrated Watershed Monitoring Program (IWMP) collects health data on sugar maple and other forest tree species. Explore the IWMP Storymap to learn about stressors that are affecting the health of our forests.

And now that we have tapped your interest in maples, be sure to join us at Island Lake or Terra Cotta Conservation Areas for the last week of maple syrup events. Hurry before the season is finished!

Have questions about maple trees? Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

By Emily Stacy, Technician, Watershed Monitoring

Comments (2)

    1. Credit Valley Conservation

      Hi David! No, paparbark maple (Acer griseum) is not native to Ontario. It’s native to mixed forests in China. A native alternative to paperbark maple you could try is Red Maple. It is know for its stunning fall colour.

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