Tag Archives: trees

Meet the Maples

maple sugaringIt’s maple sugar season: that time of year when we tap trees for their sweet sap, and boil it down to make syrup and other treats.

The star of the show is the famous sugar maple (Acer saccharum), but you can spot many other equally stunning maples in Massachusetts.

Maple Tree Basics

Before you go looking for maples, here are some general tips. First, keep an eye out for opposite branches. All maples have buds, leaves, and branches that appear in pairs opposite each other. Only a few other trees, including ashes and dogwoods, share this pattern. Combining this observation with other clues such as bark texture and habitat can help you identify maples before their leaves appear.

You might also see trees outfitted with sap collection buckets that aren’t sugar maples. Other maple trees can produce tasty sap, though they’re not usually as popular for sugaring as sugar maples (some are less sweet or less abundant, for example).

Some Maples to Meet

Here are a few of the species you may spot:

Silver Maple via flickr/natureandeventsSilver maple (Acer saccharinum) This beautiful tree is named for the silvery underside of its many-pointed leaves. Find it growing on floodplains, often near fiddlehead-bearing ostrich ferns or in urban areas, where it’s a common street tree. Older silver maples, which can be 70 feet tall, have shaggy bark.



Red Maple NPS/Alicia LafeverRed maple (Acer rubrum) This tree lives up to its name: the leaf stalks are red, the leaves turn red in fall, and even the twigs are red. It’s also a true survivor—it grows as far south as Florida and north as Quebec, and in urban settings, upland forests, swamps, and many other habitats.



Mountain Maple via flickr/Per Verdonk

Mountain maple (Acer spicatum) This is a small maple that likes moist forests. Its leaves are smaller and more jagged than the striped maple’s. The bark is brown and the twigs are red. People sometimes say it looks like a rugged mountain man who’s wearing brown pants and a red shirt!



Norway Maple via flickr/F D RichardsNorway maple (Acer platanoides) This species has been introduced from Europe and Asia. It tolerates pollution, drought, and other hazards of urban areas, and its broad leaves shade out other plants, making it a threat to our native trees. Its bark is patterned with small ridges. If you crush its leaves or stems, you’ll find a surprise: a milky white sap. People have bred many color variants—if you see a maple with purplish-red leaves, chances are it’s a Norway maple.


Striped Maple via Art PoskanzerStriped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) This small tree has big, 3-lobed leaves. Its most memorable feature is the bark of younger trees, which has elegant vertical stripes of green, grey, and brown. Look for it in moist woods.


Learn more

  • For more maple stories, and, in many cases, a tasty syrup treat, take part in one of our related programs.
  • Pick up sugaring gear as well as books about maples at the Audubon Shop in Lincoln.

Photo credits: Silver Maple via flickr/natureandevents; Red Maple NPS/Alicia Lafever; Mountain Maple via flickr/Per Verdonk; Norway Maple via flickr/F D Richards; Striped Maple via Art Poskanzer

Have You Hugged a Hemlock Lately?

Richard Webb, Self-employed horticulurist, Bugwood.orgOf all the evergreens in the winter woods, eastern hemlocks are the friendliest.

During the short, dark days of winter—when we are tempted to stay inside our heated spaces—the hemlock calls us to come out and play.

Treasured Tree
What makes the eastern hemlock so special to winter-weary humans?

  • Its short, flat needles are soft to the touch (not prickly like spruce) and its trunk doesn’t gum up your hands with pitch.
  • Hemlocks are shade loving and their lower branches can live for a long time, making them the perfect trees for finding or building shelters made of sticks and leaves.
  • A mature hemlock creates such dense shade, and its needles cause the soil to be so acidic, that few other plants can grow underneath. As a result, hemlock groves create their own micro-environment—cool, open, and dark. Perfect places for hiding, resting, and playing games.

Wildlife Treat

Porcupine in Hemlock_Richard JohnsonHemlock groves are magical to non-human animals, too. Because hemlock branches hold so much snow, snow depths beneath the trees are significantly lower. Deer often bed down underneath these trees, taking advantage of shallower snow and sheltering branches. Treat yourself to an early morning snowshoe or hike. You may be able to follow deer tracks from hemlock to hemlock, finding packed snow outlining the shape of a deer underneath each one.

Many animals eat hemlock. (In case you were wondering, eastern hemlock is not the kind of hemlock that poisoned Socrates.) Grouse and rabbits eat buds and needles. Red squirrels and mice chew off the scales of the tiny hemlock cones to get at the seeds underneath. Deer will also eat hemlock foliage and twigs as high up as they can reach.

Porcupines prefer hemlock and will eat the bark and chew off large twigs. If you see scattered hemlock twigs or tips in the snow, look up. You may see a porcupine in the branches of the tree or, on at least one Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary, living in the tree’s trunk.

The Fate of Hemlocks

Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.orgSadly, our Massachusetts hemlocks are threatened by woolly adelgid, an aphid-like insect that sucks sap from the needles. If you see what look like tiny white cotton balls at the base of hemlock needles, you’ll know the tree is infested. Woolly adelgid can be killed by very cold winters or pesticides, and scientists are experimenting with biological controls, but currently there is no cure.

Warming temperatures encourage the spread of woolly adelgid, so we can help hemlocks by combating climate change. Find out how Mass Audubon is leading by example and how you, too, can reduce your carbon footprint.

Finding Hemlocks

Many Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries harbor hemlock groves, including Eagle Lake in Holden, Laughing Brook in Hampden, Pleasant Valley in Lenox, and Wachusett Meadow in Princeton.

Tread lightly. Approach quietly. Appreciate much. But go out and find a hemlock today, for there is no better friend in the winter woods than the eastern hemlock.

Learn more about winter trees in a Mass Audubon program.

Photos Richard Webb, Self-employed horticulurist, Bugwood.org;
Richard Johnson;  Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org