The Ultimate Blog Post on the Sugar Maple!

I am beginning to wrap my brain around the difference between a sugar and a red maple, with much help from friends and family!

First the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)–samples from all over to compare

Julie's sugar maple, transplanted from NH to PA (status: struggling)

My dear auntie Trish's sugar maple from the mountains of NH

My mom's Sugar Maple (with lovely labels!) also struggling here in PA.

What these all have in common is the “U” shaped junction between the lobes (instead of a “V”), 5 lobes, and varying points but not toothy or jagged.

But then Ray from Incoming Bytes insists that his is a Sugar Maple. And he is Canadian and they have a maple leaf on their flag so he oughta know…. but look at his leaf:

Ray's Sugar Maple leaf from Canada

It is very jagged and doesn’t have the “U”, so I began to doubt until I came across a Vermont Tourist website and on their foliage identification page is their Sugar Maple:

Sugar Maple leaf from Vermont

And it looks like Ray’s! Here is their description of a Sugar Maple:

“The Sugar maple leaves have 3 to 5 sharp pointed lobes and have few teeth. The space between the lopes are rounded. This tree is a favorite in Vermont for it produces Maple syrup and maple sugar. The wood of the tree is used for furniture, veneer, plywood and house modelling.” (from

So this remains a mystery to me–these two types of Sugar Maple leaves do not seem the same.

Red Maples

Now Glory from Glory’s Garden also sent me pics of a big beautiful maple on her property. She had always thought it was a sugar maple, but on further inspection she decided it was Acer rubrum (Red Maple) and I agree with her:

Glory's Red Maple in the Poconos PA

It looks a lot like my mom’s Red Maple:

Mom's Red Maple

…and my Red Maple:

Julie's Red Maple

But then I realized, if I look closer to the trunk on the same tree the leaves begin to look a little different with 5 lobes instead of 3:

Julie's Red Maple

…which is now beginning to look an awful lot like my *mystery* maple:

The Mystery Maple


So the mystery leaf of my last post is indeed a Red, not a Sugar (my husband was right–how awful is THAT!)

Stan had posted a link on my last post of a diagram that shows this looking exactly like their idea of a Red Maple too:  (Photo Credit)

My mother told me (and she is ALWAYS right) that Red Maples have a ton of variation in leaf shape and foliage color and timing, because it is a favorite of tree people to make different varieties from.

Other Maples

This is my Norway Maple. It is deep purple all summer then in fall the leaves die and fall off with no color display. Regular Norways are green–mine is a special red variety. Notice 7 lobes.

Julie's Norway Maple (a red-leafed variety)

Mom's Norway x Shanung Maple--called Norwegian Sunset Maple

Mom's Shagbark Maple

Well, that wraps up the maple lesson for today! I hope you found it as informative as I did. Many thanks to everyone who contributed expertise and opinions, and thanks to Mom, Trish, Glory and Ray for sharing photos of their own trees!

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12 Responses to The Ultimate Blog Post on the Sugar Maple!

  1. Dan Shaw says:

    All this talk of maple just makes me want to have pancakes for breakfast.

  2. Christopher Crocker says:

    Julie, Great post and lots of fun to read. It brought back memories of NMH when Richard Odman was teaching me how to tap sugar maples for the sugaring season. I remember him commenting to me about other maples… particularly the Norway. He was quite stern… “A Norway maple is an insidious weed of a tree. An invasive species which should be cut down whenever seen.”

    What are your thoughts on the Norway?

    I have two in my yard with which I would tend to agree with Mr. Odman. They seem to be aggressive at trying to infest the rest of my yard each year. If it weren’t for the shade I get from one, I would have cut it down 10 yrs ago.


    • Julie Helms says:

      Chris, You are right– NMH is probably where I got so bonded to the Sugar Maple and why I am so desperately trying to grow one!
      Hopefully my mom will chime in about the Norway. She was just telling me how they are taking over the stands of Sugars in New England. Which if course is also impeding the syrup industry.
      I don’t care for the look of Norways–mine has no fall foliage color, and regular ones just turn a lame yellow. But they aren’t invasive I don’t think. My red maple is MUCH more so with billions of whirly gigs.
      Thanks for reading!

  3. Glory Lennon says:

    You would, Dan! I, on the other hand, found this very helpful and informative. Thank you, Julie for being as inquisitive about trees as I am about all the flora kingdom! 🙂

  4. Glory Lennon says:

    Christopher, you posted just when I did so I didn’t read yours until now. I’ve heard that about the Norway but I find the Ash tree far more insidious…it’s plainly a pain in my…wait for it…ash! 😉

  5. Julie, this is an amazing blog, it’s great to be able to compare all of the leaves. Guess what, I have one more for you to look at, when I post it — please DO add the photo to your collection on your great blog here.
    It is a HUGE maple to about 80 feet+ high, and supposedlyo not a sugar maple, not a red maple, not a silver maple, and definitely not a Norway maple. IT is a “Rock maple” or “Hard maple” –get this, ALSO called a sugar maple in some references, and identified as (Acer Saccharum ) OR Acer Glabrum Rock Maple OR Acer Nigrum, (also not to be confused with sugar maple, as they say) . Ha! That ought to confuse the issue some more…. “:))

  6. Laura says:

    Yes, Norways are known to be a problem, especially in New England (and prolly northward) – I never cared for them, but they at least they do GROW in Pennsylvania and my attempts at sugar maples have been dismal – I have one growing out of dozens I’ve planted, and it’s because it was already 3″ caliper when planted, and even it looks awfully ill. I grew up with windows facing a street that had Sugars on one side and Norways on the other. Julie actually tapped one there on a visit. (I also was indoctrinated at NMH when it was N separted from MH.)

    Norways tend to be oh-so-boring while sugars are exciting in color and bark. I did however plant several Norwegian Sunsets which are a cross with a Japanese maple and give me at least an exciting fall orange color. They are not supposed to be invasive, although I notice it often takes generations to discover that. BTW, another name for Sugars around New England is Rock Maple when it’s referring to the wood – floors or cabinets – rather than the tree itself.

  7. Good grief, this post must have taken a long time to put together! As you well know, I am botanically challenged, but even I knew, back from childhood on, what a maple leaf was. Up til now, that is. I had never noticed the differences. Very interesting.


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