Sugar Trees

by Catherine Haug, September 23, 2011

Our last gathering of the year was sugar-tapping. See the Gathering Summary: Sugar Tapping with Kathie Lapcevic, October 19, 2011. And in September, Arbor Day featured the Sugar Maple tree (Acer saccharium), which is native to North America (north of Mexico), primarily along the eastern seaboard of the US and Canada. However, as Kathie will explain, while the sugar maple produces far more sugar, even our own mountain maple and white birch trees can be tapped.

Sugar Maples in Montana?

Pollen Library: Sugar Maple indicates this shrub isn’t native to our area, but could it grow here? According to Arbor Day, it

“Thrives in sun or shade and grows best in deep, moist soils of medium or fine textures that are well ddrained. Young trees must be watered through drought periods. Adaptable to pH conditions ranging from 5.5 (acidic) to 7.3 (slightly alkaline). Suitable for hardiness zones 3 – 8.”

This would indicate it could grow here, provided the soil and drainage are right at the proposed site.

According to Can Maple Trees Grow in Montana, several varieties of maple can be grown here,”if properly planted and nurtured, such as the … Rocky Mountain, Boxelder and Amur maples … black, silver, red, sugar and Norway maples.”

Native Maples and Birches

From a sustainability perspective, it is far better to utilize native trees, than to plant nonnatives, and our native maples and birches do produce sugar worth harvesting.

Rocky Mountain or dwarf maple [Acer glabrum] is native to Western mountainous regions of Montana. Unfortunately because of its shrubby characteristic, its trunks are not large enough to tap for sugar.(3).

Boxelder maple [Acer negundo] is native to parts of Eastern Montana, and is tappable. In fact, our Native tribes obtained their sugar from this tree.

Paper or white birch (Betula papyrifera) is also native to Western Montana, where we are currently seeing problems with  the birch borer beetle, putting our white birch at risk. In addition to providing sugar, this tree has other practical uses and is well worth protecting. See Steve Wingard’s excellent presentation from 2010 on Using Birch Bark from white birch to make useful containers, canoes, etc..

Water or red birch (Betula occidentalis) can also be found in our area, and can be tapped for sugar, if you can find one with large enough trunk.

References, and for more information

  1. Ontario Extension Notes: Sugar Maple
  2. MSU Extension: Trees and Shrubs in Montana
  3. Helena Independent Record


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