Maple Sugaring: Spotting the Sweetness in Your Own Backyard

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    Sugar Maple Tree.  Photo by Bruce Marlins via Wikimedia Commons.
    Sugar Maple Tree. Photo by Bruce Marlin via Wikimedia Commons.

    This column, That Nature Show, is about the nature right under your nose: in our backyards, playgrounds and parks!  Stop and look around, you’ll be amazed at what surrounds you.

    When you think of maple syrup you think of New England, right? Vermont maple syrup. But it’s tapping season here too, from the end of February through April, so let’s do some some dendrology (the study of trees, and a totally boss Scrabble word), shall we?  Here’s how to identify a sugar maple.  (So simple even a Neanderthal can do it, and yes, according to the genetics site 23 and me, I am more than average percentage Neanderthal.)

    It turns out we have one in our backyard.

    The maple syrup that you pour liberally on Saturday flapjacks is made from the sweet blood (I have been reading a certain tweener vampire series) of acer saccharum, the sugar maple tree, native to to the Northeast and Upper Midwest and we are lucky enough to be in the southern end of its range. It’s a gorgeous tree in the fall, flame red. But in February it becomes more than a colorful ornamental, it becomes — can I go out on a limb? —  a metaphor for new beginnings. Fresh starts. 

    Never mind the polar vortex and groundhog predictions, at the hint of thaw, lengthening daylight hours and warming temperatures the tree wakes up, and begins again the process of leafing out.   It’s spring. 

    “Whatever, Mom,” the kids say, accusing me of going on and on and getting misty over a tree, quoting Robert Frost, “The moon, though slight, was moon enough to show
    On every tree a bucket with a lid,
    And on black ground a bear-skin rug of snow.”

    The kids bang their forks on the table for more, and are not deterred by poetry or when I tell them it’s tree sap. “Mmmm,” they say, “delicious.”

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