Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Acer saccharum


SPECIES: Acer saccharum
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Tirmenstein, D. A. 1991. Acer saccharum. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].
ABBREVIATION : ACESAC SYNONYMS : NO-ENTRY SCS PLANT CODE : ACSA COMMON NAMES : sugar maple rock maple hard maple TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name of sugar maple is Acer saccharum Marsh. Sugar maple is highly variable genetically and taxonomic controversy abounds. Some taxonomists recognize two to six varieties, but others recognize these entities as forms or subspecies [30,68]. Several ecotypes or races, each exhibiting clinal variation, have also been delineated [30]. Florida maple (A. barbatum), chalk maple (A. leucoderme), and black maple (A. nigrum) hybridize and intergrade with sugar maple and are often included in the sugar maple complex [27,46]. Some authorities recognize these taxa as subspecies of sugar maple [46], but most delineate them as discrete species. Sugar maple hybridizes with red maple (A. rubrum) in the field, and with bigleaf maple (A. macrophyllum) under laboratory conditions [30]. Acer X senecaense Slavin is a hybrid derived from an A. leucoderme x sugar maple cross [39]. A. skutchii is closely related to sugar maple and is treated as a subspecies by some taxonomists [46]. LIFE FORM : Tree FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : Sugar maple is listed as rare in South Dakota where it is at the western edge of its range [35].


SPECIES: Acer saccharum
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Sugar maple grows from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick westward to Ontario and Manitoba, southward through Minnesota, and eastern Kansas into northeastern Texas [46].  It extends eastward to Georgia and northward through the Appalachian Mountains into New England [46,68].  Local populations occur in northwestern South Carolina, northern Georgia, and northeastern South Dakota [46].  Disjunct populations are known from the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma [16]. ECOSYSTEMS :    FRES10  White - red - jack pine    FRES11  Spruce - fir    FRES13  Loblolly - shortleaf pine    FRES15  Oak - hickory    FRES16  Oak - gum - cypress    FRES17  Elm - ash - cottonwood    FRES18  Maple - beech - birch    FRES19  Aspen - birch STATES :      AL  AR  CT  DE  FL  GA  IA  IL  KS KY         LA  ME  MA  MI  MN  MO  NH  NJ NY  NC       OH  OK  PA  RI  SC  SD  TN  VT VA  WV       WI  MB  NB  NS  ON  QC BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : NO-ENTRY KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :    K093  Great Lakes spruce - fir forest    K095  Great Lakes pine forest    K096  Northeastern spruce - fir forest    K097  Southeastern spruce - fir forest    K098  Northern floodplain forest    K099  Maple - basswood forest    K100  Oak - hickory forest    K102  Beech - maple forest    K103  Mixed mesophytic forest    K104  Appalachian oak forest    K106  Northern hardwoods    K107  Northern hardwoods - fir forest    K108  Northern hardwoods - spruce forest    K109  Transition between K104 and K106    K110  Northeastern oak - pine forest    K111  Oak - hickory - pine forest    K112  Southern mixed forest SAF COVER TYPES :      1  Jack pine      5  Balsam fir     16  Aspen     17  Pin cherry     19  Gray birch - red maple     20  White pine - northern red oak - red maple     21  Eastern white pine     22  White pine - hemlock     23  Eastern hemlock     24  Hemlock - yellow birch     25  Sugar maple - beech - yellow birch     26  Sugar maple - basswood     27  Basswood     28  Black cherry - maple     30  Red spruce - yellow birch     31  Red spruce - sugar maple - beech     32  Red spruce     33  Red spruce - balsam fir     34  Red spruce - Fraser fir     35  Paper birch - red spruce - balsam fir     40  Post oak - blackjack oak     44  Chestnut oak     51  White pine - chestnut oak     52  White oak - black oak - northern red oak     53  White oak     55  Northern red oak     57  Yellow-poplar     58  Yellow-poplar - eastern hemlock     59  Yellow-poplar - white oak - northern red oak     60  Beech - sugar maple     61  River birch - sycamore     64  Sassafras - persimmon    107  White spruce    108  Red maple    110  Black oak SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : Sugar maple grows in a wide variety of plant communities throughout eastern North America.  It is a dominant or codominant in many northern hardwood and mixed mesophytic communities.  Common codominants include beech (Fagus grandifolia), birch (Betula spp.), and American basswood (Tilia americana).  Sugar maple has been listed as a dominant or indicator in the following community type (cts), ecosystem associations (eas), dominance types (dts), and plant association (pas) classifications: Area                    Classification                Authority s IL                    forest cts                    Fralish 1976 e IA                    forest dts                    Cahayla-Wynne & Glenn-                                                       Lewin 1978 MI                      forest eas                    Pregitzer & Ramm 1984 MN                      forest cts                    Daubenmire 1936 s NY                    forest pas                    Wilm 1936  


SPECIES: Acer saccharum
WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE : Sugar maple wood is tough, durable, hard, heavy, and strong [36,68].  It is well suited for many uses and is commonly used to make furniture, paneling, flooring, and veneer [18,42].  It is also used for gunstocks, tool handles, plywood dies, cutting blocks, woodenware, novelty products, sporting goods, bowling pins, and musical instruments [12,36,42]. IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Sugar maple is commonly browsed by white-tailed deer, moose, and snowshoe hare [31,53,71].  In Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, white-tailed deer and snowshoe hare use is heaviest during the winter [71].  The red squirrel, gray squirrel, and flying squirrels feed on the seeds, buds, twigs, and leaves of sugar maple [30].  The porcupine consumes the bark and can, in some instances, girdle the upper stem [30]. PALATABILITY : Sugar maple is at least somewhat palatable to deer in most areas. Samaras are palatable to squirrels and many other small mammals. NUTRITIONAL VALUE : The nutrient content of sugar maple browse varies by plant part and by phenological development [15].  Starch content is highest in early fall and lowest in winter.  Sugar maple leaves average 1.81 percent calcium, 0.25 percent magnesium, 0.75 percent potassium, 0.11 percent phosphorus, 0.67 percent nitrogen, and 11.85 percent ash by dry weight [30].  Unlike many plants, the leaves of sugar maple typically contain relatively high levels of calcium, magnesium, and potassium when they are shed in autumn [12]. COVER VALUE : Numerous species of songbirds nest in sugar maple.  Cavity nesters such as the black-capped chickadee excavate nest cavities or utilize preexisting cavities [33].  The common flicker, pileated woodpecker, and screech owl also nest in maples [33]. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : Sugar maple has potential value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites. It can be propagated by seed, which averages 7,000 per pound (15,400/kg) [30].  Early spring plantings generally produce the best results [30]. Sugar maple can also be propagated vegetatively by budding, grafting, air-layering, or by rooting stem cuttings [30,42]. OTHER USES AND VALUES : Sugar maple is the primary source of maple sugar and syrup [30].  The maple syrup industry is important throughout much of eastern North America and accounted for more than 100 million dollars in trade during 1989 [34].  Maple sugar and syrup were used as trade items by many Native American peoples [75].  Sugar maple is an attractive shade tree and is widely planted as an ornamental [42,54].  It is sometimes used in shelterbelt plantings [54]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Damage:  Sugar maple is susceptible to wind damage and to damage caused by ice storms and winter freezes [11,30].  De-icing salts often damage sugar maples which grow along roadways.  Individuals within the overstory are susceptible to air pollutants such as sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, chlorides, and fluorides [30].  Sugar maple is susceptible to logging injuries which frequently permit the entrance of decay [30]. Insects/disease:  Sugar maple is host to numerous insects including bud miners, aphids, borers, and defoliators such as the gypsy moth, tent caterpillar, linden looper, and cankerworms [2,30].  Cankers, root rot (Armillaria spp.), and wilt also affect sugar maple.  Since the early 1900's, this species has been periodically affected by a condition known as maple decline [52].  Increases in die-back have been observed in many parts of the Northeast since 1982 [34].  Causes of maple decline are unknown, but acid rain and other pollutants are possible contributors [74].  Trees already weakened by pollutants may be increasingly susceptible to root rot and tent caterpillar infestations [34].  Maple decline may be accentuated by a series of unusual climatic events; large diameter trees are most susceptible [37]. Silviculture:  Past exploitation has resulted in the degradation of many sugar maple stands [19].  However, in some areas, high-grading of oaks, hickories, and walnuts, has actually produced a proportional increase in sugar maple [12].  Shelterwood harvests and progressive strip cut methods are often applied to mixed hardwood stands which include maple [31,50].  For best growth of sugar maple, the residual canopy left after the first shelterwood cut should admit approximately 40 percent light [31].  A two-cut shelterwood system "cannot guarantee natural regeneration" in stands which are less than 40 years in age. Chemical control:  In general, sugar maple is resistant to foliar herbicides [25].  Studies indicate that Tordon may be effective in controlling sugar maple [25].


SPECIES: Acer saccharum
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Sugar maple is a deciduous tree which reaches 90 to 120 feet (27-37 m) in height and 30 to 36 inches (76-91 cm) in d.b.h. [30,60].  Extremely large specimens have reached more than 130 feet (40 m) in height and more than 5 feet (1.5 m) in d.b.h. [36].  Sugar maple is long-lived and plants can survive for 300 to 400 years [30].  The bark is light gray to gray-brown and becomes deeply furrowed and rough with age [17].  Twigs are a shiny, reddish-brown [36].  Sugar maple is relatively deep-rooted, with many extensively-branched laterals [30,36]. Sugar maple is monoecious or dioecious [68].  Small, greenish-yellow flowers are borne in tassellike clusters or racemes [9,36,68].  Each drooping cluster contains 8 to 14 flowers [9,68].  Fruit is a paired, papery-winged samara which averages 1 inch (2.5 cm) in length [30,32]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :    Undisturbed State:  Phanerophyte (mesophanerophyte)    Undisturbed State:  Phanerophyte (megaphanerophyte)    Burned or Clipped State:  Chamaephyte    Burned or Clipped State:  Hemicryptophyte    Burned or Clipped State:  Cryptophyte (geophyte) REGENERATION PROCESSES : Sugar maple reproduces through seed and by vegetative means.  Seed:  Sugar maple possesses extremely effective outbreeding mechanisms [70], and flowers are readily wind pollinated [30].  Minimum seed-bearing age is 30 to 40 years [30,54].  Forty- to sixty-year-old trees with 8-inch (20 cm) d.b.h. produce light crops, whereas 70- to 100-year-old trees with d.b.h. of 10 to 14 inches (25-36 cm) produce moderate seed crops [30].  Large fluctuations in annual seed crops have been reported [70].  Seed production is partly dependent on genetic factors, and some trees produce an abundance of flowers nearly every year [42].  In north-central Wisconsin, good or better crops are produced at 1- to 4-year intervals [30].  Elsewhere in the United States, good crops occur at 2- to 5-year intervals, and in Canada, at 3- to 7-year intervals [30].  In good crop years, 264 seeds per meter square may be produced [38]. Seed dispersal:  Seed is primarily dispersed by wind [54], which can carry the relatively large seeds for up to 330 feet (100 m) [30]. However, most seeds do not travel more than 49 feet (15 m) from the forest edge [38].  Some sugar maple seed may also be dispersed by water [54]. Seed banking:  Sugar maple seed can remain viable for up to 5 years when properly stored [30].  However, few seeds persist in the seed bank for more than 1 year [38], and sugar maple is not considered an important seed banker [51]. Seedling establishment:  Seedling recruitment varies annually; periodic high seedling densities may function as a predator avoidance mechanism [70].  In favorable years seedling recruitment may reach 18.7 seedlings per meter square, but in poor years no seedling recruitment occurs [38]. Seedlings can survive for long periods when suppressed beneath a forest canopy and respond quickly to release.  Seedlings in very dense young stands may survive for only 5 years, but in stands where trees average 10 inches (25 cm) or more in d.b.h., seedlings commonly persist for many years.  Initial seedling growth is slow [30], and mortality is often high [70]. Vegetative regeneration:  Sugar maple is a prolific sprouter in the northern part of its range, but at the southern edge of its range, it sprouts less vigorously than associated hardwoods [30].  Stump-sprouting and root-sprouting are moderately common [38].  Layering occasionally occurs [30]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Sugar maple most commonly occurs in rich, mesic woods but also grows in drier upland woods [18,68].  It grows in level areas or in coves and other sheltered locations on adjacent lower slopes [1,18,24].  Sugar maple is often associated with stream terraces, streambanks, valleys, canyons, ravines, and wooded natural levees [1,10,28,68].  It is occasionally found on dry rocky hillsides [32].  At the western edge of its range, sugar maple grows as scattered canopy seed trees or as abundant seedlings in protected ravines and relatively mesic north-facing slopes [77]. Sugar maple is a major species in seven SAF cover types and is common in 17 others [30].  It is a prominent component of mesic hardwood forests, Great Lakes pine forests, spruce-fir forests, and northern hardwood forests [12,22,67].  Sugar maple forms pure stands but also grows mixed with other hardwoods and scattered conifers [36].  Common associates include American basswood, yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), black cherry (Prunus serotina), red spruce (Picea rubens), white spruce (P. glauca), beech, eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), northern red oak (Quercus rubra), white oak (Q. alba), and yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) [30]. Understory associates:  Understory associates of sugar maple are both varied and numerous.  Common shrub associates include beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta), Atlantic leatherwood (Dirca palustris), redberry elder (Sambucus pubens), alternate-leaf dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), dwarf bush-honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), Canada yew (Taxus canadensis), red raspberry (Rubus idaeus), and blackberries (Rubus spp.).  Springbeauty (Claytonia caroliniana), large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), anemone (Anemone spp.) marsh blue violet (Viola cucullata), downy yellow violet (V. pubescens), Solomon's-seal (Polygonatum pubescens), false Solomon's-seal (Smilacina stellata), sweet cicely (Osmorhiza spp.), adderstongue (Ophioglossom vulgatum), jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema atrorubens), clubmosses (Lycopodium spp.), and largeleaf aster (Aster macrophyllus) [30]. Soils:  Sugar maple can grow on a wide variety of soils [30,75], but typically grows best on deep, moist, fertile, well-drained soils [4,36]. It grows on sand, loamy sand, sandy loam, silty loam, and loam [30]. Sugar maple is commonly associated with alluvial or calcareous soils [24,32] but also grows on stabilized dunes [75].  This tree is intolerant of flooded soils [3] and generally grows poorly on dry, shallow soils [30].  In parts of New England, sugar maple commonly grows on soils rich in organics [30].  Sugar maple occurs on strongly acidic (pH=3.7) to slightly alkaline (pH=7.3) soils but grows best where soil pH ranges from 5.5 to 7.3.  Soils are derived from a variety of parent materials including shale, limestone, and sandstone [68,62]. Elevation:  In the southern and southwestern portions of its range, sugar maple generally grows at intermediate elevations [30]. Generalized elevational ranges by geographic location are as follows [30]: Location                Elevation s Appalachian Mtns.     3,000 to 5,500 feet (910-1,680 m) Lake States             up to 1,600 feet (490 m) n New England           up to 2,500 feet (760 m) New York                up to 2,500 feet (760 m) SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Sugar maple is very tolerant of shade and can persist for long periods beneath a dense forest canopy [30].  It is noted for its ability to quickly occupy gaps created in the forest canopy [37,64].  A bank of abundant seedlings remains suppressed until gaps are created by windfall or other disturbances [37].  Seedlings and saplings typically respond vigorously and rapidly to release and can overtop competitors such as northern red oak.  Openings or gaps in the canopy allow more nutrients, light, and water to become available [37].  In many areas, sugar maple is a dominant species in gaps created by dying American elms [56]. Sugar maple is generally regarded as a late seral or climax species in many eastern deciduous forests [57].  However, as Parker and Sherwood [58] note, the "long-term dynamics of eastern deciduous forests are not well understood."  Throughout much of the Upper Midwest, sugar maple codominates climax stands with American basswood, or yellow birch [4,13,23].  In the absence of disturbance, forests composed of jack pine, eastern white pine, eastern hemlock, yellow birch, or red pine are replaced by sugar maple and American basswood [12,21,69].  However, it should be noted that disturbances, particularly fire, were common in eastern deciduous forests in presettlement times.  In some locations, succession to sugar maple-American basswood stands may have taken as long as 650 years [40]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : Growth initiation of sugar maple varies geographically [42].  Flower buds generally begin to swell prior to the development of vegetative buds and generally emerge 1 to 2 weeks before the leaves appear [30]. Male and female flowers mature at slightly different rates, which promotes cross-pollination [42].  Fruit ripens approximately 12 to 16 weeks after the flowers appear [30,70].  Fruit begins to fall approximately 2 weeks after ripening [30].  Flowering and fruiting dates by geographic location are as follows: Location          Flowering         Fruiting          Authority Adirondack Mtns.  May               Sept.-Oct.        Chapman & Bessette 1990 Blue Ridge Mtns.  April-June        ----              Wofford 1989 FL Panhandle      March             ----              Clewell 1985      Great Plains      April-May         ----              Great Plains Flora                                                       Association 1986  Gulf & Atlantic   April - May       ----              Duncan & Duncan 1987          Coasts                                                New England       April 28-May 1-23 ----              Seymour 1985 NC, SC            April - May       June - Oct.       Radford & others 1968 se US             March - May       ----              Duncan & Duncan 1988 Leaves turn yellow to orange or deep red in the fall [6] and generally drop just after seeds have fallen [30].  At the southern edge of the species' range, dead brown leaves tend to remain on the trees through much of the winter [28].  Trees from the northern portion of the species' range become dormant earlier than do those from the South [42].


SPECIES: Acer saccharum
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : Sugar maple typically increases in the absence of fire [40].  Seedlings occasionally sprout, but postfire establishment occurs primarily through an abundance of wind-dispersed seed. Central States:  Fire has played an important role in deciduous forests of the central and eastern United States [63,76].  Fire suppression has favored sugar maple and other northern hardwood species, while fire-tolerant species such as white oak, northern red oak, and Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) have experienced declines [55].  Dramatic increases in sugar maple during the past 48 years in central hardwood forests have been attributed to fire suppression [65].  Sugar maple was formerly nearly absent in areas of central Missouri which bordered the fire-prone prairies [55].  Since settlement times, it has increased as mean fire intervals have declined. The Southeast:  Fire was a major influence in presettlement forests of the Southeast [73].  Increased fire suppression in this region has also favored shade-tolerant hardwoods, such as sugar maple, and has resulted in a decrease in oaks [73]. Northeast:  Mean fire intervals are typically long in most northern hardwood forests.  In New England, fire is a less important disturbance agent than windthrow or insect infestations [22].  In northern hardwood stands in Maine and New Hampshire, mean fire intervals in presettlement forests ranged from 230 to 4,970 years [22].  In New Brunswick, fire rotations have been estimated at 625 years in both sugar maple-yellow birch-fir and sugar maple-eastern hemlock-pine forests [22].  In hardwood stands in parts of New Hampshire, sugar maple has been increasing [45]. Great Lakes Region:  Northern hardwood forests of the Great Lakes Region lie between the fire-prone savanna and prairie communities to the south and west [8].  Fires in these forests were presumably fairly common in presettlement times but may have occurred at intervals which exceeded the lifespan of individual trees [8].  Shade-tolerant species, such as sugar maple, commonly assume dominance in the absence of fire in Great Lake's hardwood forests.  Where fire frequencies are high, aspen and paper birch (Betula papyrifera) are common dominants [69].  In presettlement times, sugar maple was typically absent from portions of the North Woods which burned at frequent intervals [13]. POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :    survivor species; on-site surviving root crown or caudex    off-site colonizer; seed carried by wind; postfire yrs 1 and 2


SPECIES: Acer saccharum
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Sugar maple is sensitive to fire [13].  The thin bark is easily damaged by even light ground fires [12].  Curtis [12] reported that "cambial injury occurs even in trees that show little external damage."  Large trees occasionally survive light fires and may exhibit visible fire scars [40].  Hot fires can kill existing regeneration [49]. Sugar maple commonly occurs in mesic closed canopy forests that are relatively resistant to ground fires, particularly during the winter and spring when litter is usually moist [12].  In the summer, flammable litter (generally deciduous leaves) is often scarce or absent.  Greatest fire hazard occurs in dry years during October, after the leaves have fallen [12].  Fires which occur during this time period are occasionally severe and can kill the entire stand.  In a Tennessee loblolly pine stand, DeBruyn and Buckner [14] reported 85 percent mortality in sugar maple following a fall burn when fuels were very dry. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : Sugar maple sprouts poorly after fire [40].  Mature trees that have been top-killed by fire do not sprout, small saplings occasionally sucker [12].  Although sprouting is common in young sugar maples following mechanical disturbances, it is relatively uncommon after fire.  Sugar maple reestablishes through seedling sprouts and seedlings [49]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE : The Research Project Summaries Effects of surface fires in a mixed red and eastern white pine stand in Michigan and Early postfire effects of a prescribed fire in the southern Appalachians of North Carolina, and the Research Paper by Bowles and others 2007 provide information on prescribed fire and postfire response of several plant species, including sugar maple, that was not available when this species review was originally written. FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Fuels/flammability:  The average ash content of dead sugar maple leaves collected in two Michigan counties was documented as follows [47]:                Wexford Co.       Ingham Co.                          (percent) Fall              7.1              8.5         Spring            9.2             12.2 Early summer     10.3             13.1

References for species: Acer saccharum

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