Sugar maple (Acer saccharum), sometimes called rock maple, is very common in forests in the northeast and midwest. It is beloved not only as the source of maple syrup, but even more so for its spectacular display of brilliantly colored foliage each fall. Oaks and hickories are more common in the Beverly Shores island, helping to explain why our fall colors are not quite at bright as elsewhere, but wherever a sugar maple appears, you can expect a great show.
Speaking of sugar maples and shows, on Saturdays and Sundays in early March, the National Park Service offers its Maple Sugar Time Event at the Bailly/Chellberg Visitor Center on Mineral Springs Road. “The Annual Maple Sugar Time features the evolution of ‘maple sugaring’ in Northwest Indiana from an early American Indian method, to the pioneer method of boiling sap in open iron kettles, to the relatively modern and commercial method of producing syrup much the way the Chellberg Family did.” There are many sugar maples on the Chellberg property and throughout our area, so you can expect success should you plant your own.
Growing sugar maple in Beverly Shores can nevertheless be tricky—sugar maples don't like sand. Sugar maples prefer well-drained, rich, acidic, loamy soils but will grow in sandy soils and can handle neutral or alkaline soil pH. (They really hate clay, but that's not an issue here.) You can get them started under larger trees—they don't mind shade. A sugar maple will get large, so try not to plant under overhead wires.
If you want to plant a sugar maple, be very careful to avoid its invasive cousin, Norway maple (Acer platanoides). Norway maples were widely planted after our much-loved street tree, the American elm, was destroyed by Dutch elm disease. Norway maples do better at the edges of urban streets than do sugar maples, as the sugar maple does not like either pollution or road salt. But the advantages of the Norway maple have proven to be fleeting, as the Norway maples in North America have much shorter lifespans than those in Europe. The Norway maple's rapid growth comes coupled with wood that's weaker than that of the sugar maple, leading to branches breaking off in storms. The limbs of the sugar maple are unusually strong, much less likely to break in storms. And Norway maples can't match the fall finery of the sugar maple.
Telling the sugar maple from the Norway maple is easiest in fall, given the brilliance of the sugar maple. But if you look at the seeds, their shape is a giveaway. Maple seeds are contained in winged samaras. Norway maple's samaras are fairly flat—the wings point in opposite directions. Sugar maple samaras are U-shaped, as in the photo. You can also distinguish the trees by their sap. Break off a leaf and check the stem for sap. If it is milky, you have a Norway maple. Sugar maple sap is clear.
If you have questions about sugar maple or other native or non-native plants, don’t hesitate to contact Terry Bonace (firstname.lastname@example.org), Candice Smith (email@example.com), or Bill Schaudt (firstname.lastname@example.org) for assistance. Also please explore our website, www.bserg.org, for further information on invasive plants and native replacements.