Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Maple leafs - more than just a hockey team from Toronto

Is a maple tree just a maple tree?


There are seven different native Maple (Acer) species in Michigan as well as several introduced species.

Yesterday (12 July 2016) was the second full day of the 2016 Michigan DNR Academy of natural resources.  While wandering around the grounds of the Ralph A. MacMullan (RAM) Conference Center over the past two days, I noticed that several different species of Maple trees could be found on the property.  While all three species  have similarities, they also bear distinct differences.

The first of the three trees was the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum).  This species can grow to an average height of 60 to 100 feet and reach a trunk diameter of up to 48 inches.  Michigan's record  Sugar Maple has a recorded diameter of more than 72 inches, but is only 78 feet tall.  Often for "big tree" listings, trees are measured only by their trunk diameter.

The leaves of Sugar Maples are simple (meaning one leaf on one stem) and typically have five lobes (rarely three).  The margins (edges) of the leaves have a few wavy teeth.  These leaves normally measure 2 to 5 inches wide and long (not counting the leaf petiole or stem).  The leaves of this species (and all maple species) are arranged in opposite pairs.

Sugar Maple leaf - note five lobes and wavy-toothed margins

The second Maple species that I noticed was the Red Maple (Acer rubrum).  Red Maples are similar in size to Sugar Maples.  They reach a height of 50 to 100 feet and normally have a trunk diameter of up to 32 inches.  The Michigan record Red Maple is actually larger than the state record Sugar Maple, with a trunk diameter of 74 inches and a height of 120 feet.

The leaves of the Red Maple are similar in size to those of the Sugar Maple (2-5 inches).  They also have three to five lobes - three lobes seem to be more common than five in most trees.  The majore difference between the Sugar Maple and this species is the leaf margins.  Red Maple leaves have margins with many sharply pointed teeth.

Red Maple leaf  - note five lobes and sharply serrated leaf margins

The third Maple species that I found was the Mountain Maple (Acer spicatum).  This species is significantly smaller than the previous two species, only reaching a height of 20 to 30 feet and a trunk diameter of 3 to 8 inches.  The state record Mountain Maple has a trunk diameter of only 11 inches and a height of 58 feet.

Like Red Maple, the margins of Mountain Maple Leaves are serrated (toothed).  The teeth on Mountain Maple leaves are much coarser than those of the Red Maple.  The leaves often smaller (3-5 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide) and have only three lobes.

Mountain Maple leaf - note three lobes and coarsely serrated leaf margins

In this final photograph you can see all three species for comparison.

Sugar Maple (top left), Mountain Maple (bottom left), and Red Maple (right)

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