Tree to 30 m tall, trunk to 1.8 m in diameter Leaves: opposite, stalked, bright green above, lighter green beneath, 7.5 to 20 cm long and wide, usually five-lobed, few-toothed. Leaves turn yellow to scarlet red in the fall. Flowers: either male or female, found on the same (monoecious) or different (dioecious) plants, borne in few-flowered clusters, greensih yellow. Fruit: winged (samara), paired, 3 - 3.5 cm long, with wings spread to a 60-degree angle. Bark: dark gray to grayish brown, smooth when young, becoming deeply furrowed. Twigs: smooth, changing from green to orangish or reddish brown to gray. Terminal buds: reddish brown, 5 - 8 mm long, conical, pointed, with slightly hairy scales.
Similar species: Acer platanoides is easy to distinguish from Acer saccharum and Acer nigrum by its milky sap exuded from the leaf stalk, broader and more blunt terminal buds, and samaras with wings spread to nearly 180 degrees. Similarities between A. saccharum and A. nigrum are so striking, some view them as the same species. Acer nigrum has very dark bark that looks corrugated and leaves that are mostly three-lobed, dark green, drooping at the sides, velvet-like underneath, with stipules at the base of the stalk. Acer saccharum var. saccharum is highly variable with gray bark, mostly five-lobed leaves with few hairs beneath, and margins that do not curl under. Acer saccharum var. schneckii has long, shaggy hairs on the lower leaf surface and leaf stalk, and the margin curls under.
Flowering: April to mid May
Habitat and ecology: Undisturbed woods, well-drained uplands, and lowland but not swampy areas.
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Notes: Maple syrup is made from the sap of A. saccharum in very early spring. To make one liter of syrup, 30.25 liters of sap are needed. The wood is very hard and durable, making it a desirable material for furniture, cabinets, tool handles, musical instruments, and flooring. This is the state tree of Wisconsin.
Etymology: Acer is derived from a Latin word meaning sharp, which refers to the hardness of the wood. Saccharum is the botanical name for the genus sugarcane, which comes from the Greek word saccharon, meaning "a sweet juice."
Climax tree to 40 m; bark medium-gray, becoming roughened with loose-edged plates; lvs flat, about as wide as long, usually glabrous beneath except for a few tufts of hairs in the vein-axils, (3)5-lobed with rounded sinuses, the lobes usually bearing a few large sharp teeth, the central lobe usually with nearly parallel sides to a pair of large teeth at about mid-length; fls in umbels from the terminal or uppermost lateral buds, appearing as the lf-buds open, drooping on slender, hairy pedicels to 8 cm; cal gamosepalous, 2.5-6 mm, ±hirsute; pet none; disk extrastaminal; ovary and fr glabrous; mericarps of the fr 2.5-4 cm, the seed- bearing basal parts diverging at right angles to the pedicel, the wings curved forward, divergent at an angle of 120Рor less; 2n=26. Rich to fairly dry woods, especially in calcareous soils; N.S. and N.B. to Minn. and e. S.D., s. to N.J., Del., w. Va., n. Ga., Tenn., and Mo. (Saccharodendron s.; Acer saccharophorum) Plants intermediate toward A. barbatum, occurring along the s. boundary of our range, have been called var. schneckii Rehder, or var. regelii (Pax) Rehder, the latter name however based on a specimen of A. barbatum. Spp. 2-4 often treated as parts of a single sp.
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.