Champion Sugar Maples

The blazing color of Sugar Maples in fall is surpassed by few other trees in Wisconsin. Photo by Roy Lukes.

My parents were married in Kewaunee in 1926. One of their wedding presents was a solid Sugar Maple cutting board shaped like a pig, made by my mom’s uncle Frank Cmejla, a skilled cabinet maker in Algoma. Charlotte and I were married 46 years later, in 1972, and my mom presented an extra wedding gift to us, the 1926 Sugar Maple pig cutting board that she had used daily for 46 years. Fittingly, Charlotte has used that same beautiful family heirloom practically every day for the past 42 years.

Sugar Maple wood is finely grained and very tough, but I still prefer this maple as a living tree for its shade and beauty, along with the flavorful syrup which can be made from its sweet sap. Its scientific name is Acer saccharum (A-sir SACK-a-rum).

“Acer” means hard or sharp. The Romans used European Maple for spikes and lances, as well as for tables and other furniture. “Saccharum” refers to the trees’ sweet sap.

We think of the mighty oak, but the wood of Sugar Maple is stronger and stiffer than oak although it is the lighter of the two.

My dad loved trees, knew how to plant and care for them and sold them for a number of years in Kewaunee County for the McKay Nursery out of Madison. One hybrid maple he disliked and refused to sell to his customers was the Schwedler’s Maple and a few other very deep maroon-leaved maples. Dad simply preferred normal green-colored trees.

Tree experts list slightly more than 120 species of maple trees worldwide. The three native species most common in Door County are the Sugar, Red and Mountain. A very commonly seen maple here is the Norway Maple, not native of North America. Due to its hardiness they survive well along city streets where air is somewhat more polluted due to industrial and automobile traffic. This species does not attain the brilliant red or orange fall color of the Sugar and Red Maples.

The higher sugar content of the trunk and leaves of the Sugar Maple produce the autumn color so greatly enjoyed. We anxiously wait for that fall season, usually in early to mid-October when cold nights alternate with sunny skies during the day when one can witness the most pyrotechnical palette of anywhere on earth. Don’t go to Europe, for example, expecting to see brilliant fall color, for you won’t find it there. It is only to be enjoyed in certain parts of North America.

What joy I find in standing next to a tree having a trunk about 11 feet in circumference and a height of 100 feet. There is such a tree growing at the Schoenbrunn State Natural Area in northern Door County, along the trail leading down to the north side of the Mink River. I think this may be the tallest Sugar Maple in the county. However, I will welcome the day when I am proven wrong and will make great haste to see, hug and photograph that height-champion.

Do you suppose many people would go to see the state’s biggest Sugar Maple tree? Based upon my observations, my answer is no. The tree in mind goes begging for attention. I call it the Roger Anderson Sugar Maple, which grows in back of the Therma-Tron-X manufacturing plant south of Sturgeon Bay, in a depression along the Ahnapee Recreational Trail. That tree’s circumference is 200 inches, measured at 4 ½ feet above the ground, and its height is 86 feet. Further measurements will have to be taken in order for this tree to officially become the state champion.

There are a few towering Sugar Maples at the Blossomburg Cemetery located in Peninsula State Park. The one we especially like grows right next to the road where it can be admired from one’s car. Its fascinating straight trunk, plus crown, having great character rises 79 feet and its circumference is 168 inches (14 ft.).

Big trees have a habit of hiding even when in clear view. For example, you can drive past the same tree day after day and not notice its large dimensions, but it is not until you get out your measuring instruments and actually measure it that you realize that this may be the largest of its kind in the county or even state. I wonder how many people have stopped in at the Institute Saloon along Highway 57 to rest and have a beer and didn’t realize that within perhaps 40 or 50 feet of where they sat grew one of the largest single trees in all of Door County, an Eastern Cottonwood.

Many people rank the Sugar Maple as the champion of all of the broadleaved trees in the state. Yes, this “countryman” of a tree is the official state tree but they are also deeply esteemed for their beautiful and varied foliage.

This Sugar Maple at the Blossomburg Cemetery in Peninsula State Park is one of the biggest in the county. Photo by Charlotte Lukes.

Having spent my childhood in Kewaunee, I recall some fairly large Sugar Maples growing along Dodge Street near the old public school. However one had to go out into the countryside to see the really large specimens. A good number of them were planted along the streets of the residential district, including along our Wisconsin Avenue, these trees needed much more space to become really large. The biggest maples in our neighborhood were the Silver Maples, which my dad never liked. He said they lacked the character of the Sugars and also were too messy with limb and branch breakage. I totally agree with him.

There supposedly is a Sugar Maple, a so-called “Indian Marker Tree,” on Chambers Island in Door County, bent by the natives to mark a trail. It was common during those bygone days to bend young saplings to mark a trail. In the case that such a tree exists, I surely would like to see it.

Michigan is the leading producer of Sugar Maple lumber today in the U.S., most being harvested in the northern counties. Other forest associates are the American Beech, Northern Hemlock and Yellow Birch. It is said that the early champion Sugar Maples were upwards of 135 feet in height and 5 feet in diameter. Imagine the sparkle in the lumbermen’s eyes getting trees like this to the sawmill.

Trees, including the treasured maples, surely deserve our thoughtful care. Please bear in mind, too, that a very significant forest product is aesthetic pleasure. Enjoy your favorite Sugar Maples!