When thinking of New England, an organism that quickly comes to mind is the sugar maple, also known as Acer saccharum. This large, deciduous tree is common in moist soils of the mountains and valleys of New England, either mixed with other hardwoods or in pure stands. Sugar maples are found from Manitoba east to Nova Scotia, south to North Carolina, and west to eastern Kansas, but New England is the area most famous for production of maple syrup. This sweet treat is made from the boiled, concentrated sap of the trees, with 32 gallons of sap required to make 1 gallon of syrup. Sugar maples are valued not only for the 5 to 60 gallons per year of sap they produce but also for their beautiful wood which is mainly used for furniture and flooring. Especially beautiful wood products are made from the sugar maples which develop grain patterns known as bird's eye or curly maple.
To distinguish maples from other trees, look for their palmately-lobed, 3 to 5 inch leaves which occur opposite one another and for their fruit known as keys, which are pairs of winged seeds each about an inch long. To distinguish sugar from other maples, examine the leaves for deep, U-shaped notches, few teeth, and a "box" shape at the top. Sugar maples usually have a dense, rounded crown and light gray bark which develops deep furrows as the tree ages. In the spring, tiny, bell-shaped, yellowish-green flowers occur in drooping clusters with the new sugar maple leaves. In the fall, the leaves turn red, orange, and yellow, contributing to New England's spectacular fall foliage.
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