There are 125-150 different species of maple trees in the world and about two thirds are located in China. Maples like deep, moist, and fertile soils, but are also adaptive growers great for boulevards, parks, and backyards. Canada actually only has 10 native species and they range from shrubs (vine maple) to 40 meter tall trees (big leaf maple).
Here in Niagara the maples you can see include the Manitoba maple (also called box elder), black maple, striped maple (also called moosewood), red maple, silver maple, mountain maple, and of course the most famous of all, the sugar maple.
Here is a brief summary of how to recognize them:
- Manitoba maple - The only one without a compound leaf. Grows everywhere, like a weed.
- Black maple - Curvy 3-lobed leaf with a fuzzy underside, wide canopy.
- Striped maple - The bark has distinctive fine white lines
- Red maple - Flowers and new leaves are red, winter branches have a red tinge.
- Silver maple - Small maple leaves with silver coloured underside. Grows very tall.
- Mountain maple - A tall shrub with coarsely toothed and small lobed leaves, often very dark green.
Canada is the leading exporter of maple products in the world, accounting for 75% of the total. Quebec is the source of over 90% of Canada's maple products. Did you know that different colours and flavours of syrup all come from the same tree? They are just harvested at different times, a week or two later in the early spring. To learn more about maple syrup I recommend a visit to the Maple Leaf Place on the Niagara Parkway or even visiting a farm for a tour.
At this time of year the trees are getting tapped but it is also nice to look for the expanding flower buds as the trees will soon bloom. After the flowers die the seeds will grow and those are, what as kids we use to call, helicopters. They are more commonly referred to as maple keys and the angle between the two seeds in in each pair varies by species.
These seeds are an important part of the Canadian ecological system - seeds are eaten by squirrels, chipmunks, mice, and more. The young twigs are eaten by deer and moose. And even the inner bark of some of the trees is edible. In fact some native American tribes formerly ate the inner bark fresh, dried, or made a flour from it that could be used in further cooking. Although not personally my favourite, if you are in a dire situation you can also eat the seeds by peeling away the maple key. Join us on a tour and try identifying, or eating, some maples!