Sugar Maple

A distant view shows the full crown and trunk of the huge maple.

Every spring, starting in the mid-to-late 1930s, my dad would take my two older brothers and me to the Reynolds’s sugar bush near Casco Junction in central Kewaunee County to watch them make maple syrup. Naturally we all were given a taste of the ambrosial natural sweetener, and dad would buy a few bottles for later treats on pancakes. This was my introduction to Wisconsin’s state tree and one of its world-renowned byproducts, maple syrup. Fortunately those of us in Door County have access to several outstanding producers of maple syrup.

So highly respected is the Sugar Maple that it was chosen to be the official state tree for Wisconsin, New York, Vermont and West Virginia. The tree, complete with the attached maple sap buckets, appears on the 2001 U.S. quarter honoring the state of Vermont.

The tree’s scientific genus name is Acer (A-sir), alluding to the sharp pointed tips of the leaf lobes, while its species name, saccharum (SACK-a-rum), refers to sugar, a highly fitting generic title. You are in for a treat when you taste a genuine piece of maple sugar candy!

Listening to lumber or tree people, or those folks who sell firewood, converse, you often will hear the terms soft maple and hard maple. Soft maple is the same as Red Maple, while hard maple is the Sugar Maple. One might look upon the use of Sugar Maple for firewood as nearly downright sinful, so valuable is this wood in the manufacture of many items including flooring, fine furniture, bowling pins and bowling alleys.

I speak from experience having taught in a few schools where the classrooms had beautiful hard maple flooring. In that I always stood when teaching, I never returned home at the end of the day with aching legs and feet from standing on maple floors which have “give.” I nearly always ached from standing on concrete floors all day.

Nick Anderson, master tree measurer, stands next to the potential state record Sugar Maple.

Locating and measuring potential champion trees in our county continues to be one of my passions. Charlotte and I have also made specific plans during some of our travels, especially in the western states, to visit well-established record trees. One tree we would dearly love to hug some day is the famous Comfort Maple in Pelham, Ontario, reputed to be one of the largest Sugar Maples in North America. Pelham is located in extreme southeast Ontario on a point of land generally between Lakes Huron and Ontario. This is roughly at the same latitude as Milwaukee, so it is considerably farther south than we are.

The Comfort Maple is roughly 20 feet in circumference, measured at the base of the tree, and is 80 feet tall. The current U.S. champion Sugar Maple is at Charlemont, Mass. It measures 233 inches in circumference (19.42 feet) measured at 4.5 feet above the ground. Its height is 112 feet, indicating that it most likely is a forest-grown tree, which usually accounts for its great height. Open-grown trees invariably have considerably shorter trunks which usually, but not always, results in overall shorter trees (the trunk plus the crown).

Ever since I came to know Frank Butts in around 1966, when he so proudly introduced me to his favorite Sugar Maple tree which grew in his woods, now owned by The Ridges Sanctuary and referred to as the Logan Creek Preserve, I’ve been especially fascinated by these wonderful maples. His, as I recall, was a little over 12 feet in circumference, and sadly it is dead, or nearly so, even though it is still standing.

Some of the largest Sugar Maples we’ve measured in the county over the past 20 years include those on Guilette Road in Southern Door, Cove Road and Utah Street, on the Harvey Stahl land, the “giant” along the Schoenbrunn Trail leading to the Mink River Estuary, Clyde Johnson’s, a very big specimen on S. Shiloh Road in Sturgeon Bay, and at the Blossomburg Cemetery in Peninsula State Park. The largest of these has a circumference of around 14 feet.

Today’s officially reported state champion Sugar Maple grows in Jefferson County and has a circumference of 206 inches (17.2 feet) and a height of 76 feet. The exciting news is that we recently measured a Sugar Maple in Door County that may be either a new record for the state or the second largest.

Charlotte Lukes admires the Sugar Maple.

Several members of the Friends of Toft Point, namely Nick Anderson, Dave Link, Marc Savard Sr. and I, who have been measuring potential county (or possibly state) champions in recent years, were recently alerted to a very large Sugar Maple growing on private property within the city limits of Sturgeon Bay. Much to our joy the old monarch has a circumference of 200 inches (16 feet 8 inches) and a height of 86 feet.

My “Door To Nature” story in the November 24, 2010 Peninsula Pulse, entitled “Big, Beautiful Historical Trees of Door County,” lists the age factors for 21 tree species that grow in our county. By determining the circumference of the tree, measured in inches at 4.5 feet above the ground, dividing that circumference by 3.14 to get the diameter, and then multiplying that figure by the tree’s age factor will provide you with the tree’s approximate age. For example, the Blossomburg Sugar Maple is estimated to be 294 years and began growing in around 1716.

Our new potential state champion Sugar Maple, having a diameter of 63.7 inches, multiplied by the Sugar Maple factor of 5.5, is about 350 years old and began its growth in around 1682. That was 94 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence! How downright thrilling it is to be able to admire, and better still, hug a tree this old – history in the raw!

Out of respect for the owner of this historic tree, its exact location will have to remain a secret until some further careful planning is completed. Until then, continue to search diligently for and report to me what you think are unusually large trees. As Proust said, “The true voyage of discovery is not in going to new places but in seeing with new eyes.” Mark my word, large trees have the uncanny ability of hiding right before one’s eyes!