There are approximately 125 species of maple (Acer spp). Most are indigenous to Asia but there are many native to America, Europe, and Africa as well. Most maples are trees that grow anywhere from 10 to 40 feet tall. They have characteristic lobed, palmate leaves and “winged” fruits called samaras in the spring. The leaf arrangement is opposite.
Maples flower in early spring or late winter and are valuable early food sources for pollinating insects. They have four or five very small petals and sepals, four to ten stamens and two long pistils, or one pistil with two styles.
Maple seeds carried in fun, helicopter-like fruits called samaras, which have wings designed to carry them some distance away from the mother tree. These can be gathered and planted and will often grow quite well. Most need to be stratified first, either through cold stratification or by using a file to wear down the hard outer shell.
Maples can take up to six months to germinate and can be troubled by root rot when young. Keep young maple trees in a sheltered, semi-shaded area.
Maples of all ages can be bothered by aphids and are popular hosts for many species of butterfly and moth. Maples are also affected by a number of fungal parasites. Although these may look ugly, they don’t usually cause lasting harm to the tree.
History and Folklore
The word acer is from the Latin meaning “sharp” which refers to the pointed leaves.
Maple sugar was being made by the Native Americans long before European colonists came to America. A number of stories exist to explain where the practice came from.
One story says that when the Creator first made the world, maple syrup ran from maple trees all the time. One day Glooskap came by and saw that all the villagers were laying under the trees letting the syrup run into their mouths and all the work was undone and the fields overgrown. So he made the sap runny and told the people that if they wanted syrup they’d have to work for it and showed them how to turn the runny sap into a sweet, thick syrup.
Another story says that the red squirrel first showed a hunter how to get a sweet sap from the maple. He liked to bite off the branches to make the sap ooze out and when it had dried into a sugar crust would come back and lick it joyfully.
Harvesting & Storage
Pick up branches after a storm to make wands and staves.
Maple trees make great bonsai. The wood of sugar maple and sycamore maple are especially prized for making furniture and flooring.
Maple trees are a valuable host to many species of moth and butterfly and make an excellent addition to a butterfly garden.
Maple is useful in moon magic and in spells related to travel, learning and decision-making, especially in matters related to bringing about or dealing with change. Maple is also useful for spiritual healing.
Maple syrup may be used in Kitchen Witchery for love spells and spiritual healing, i.e. soothing the psyche.
Maple wood is useful for smoking and curing meat.
The sugar maple sap can be boiled down to make maple syrup, maple sugar and maple candy.