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Species Name:  Acer saccharum

Common Name: Sugar Maple

Zone: 4 to 8


Distribution: Nova Scotia to Minnesota in the north, south to Tennessee and Missouri .


Seed collection: Sugar maple (SM) seed matures in mid to late September in the northeast. SM seed is a two part winged samara or winged seed covering, produced in clusters at the ends of young twigs. Seed is wind dispersed from October through November. Collect seed from the tree after the leaves have changed color but before the seed has dispersed from the tree. Some sound seed can remain on the tree until early November.  As SM seed matures it changes color from bright green to light brown. SM does not always produced a reliable seed crop every year.  Large crops of seed are produced every 3 to 5 years with no seed or only a few seeds produce in the intervening years.


Seed handling: SM seed does not need any cleaning but the wings may be removed to reduce bulk. Many samaras will be empty due to unfertilized embryos.   Percentage of sound seed can be checked by opening a representative sample of about 20 seeds or squeezing the samaras. seed with a live embryo will be hard and firm while empty seed will crush.  Seed may be stored for 2 to 4 weeks dry before beginning stratification.  Place seed in a moist stratification mix to maintain seed moisture levels.  Cold/moist stratify seed for 2 to 3 months or fall plant.    Best  results occur from fall planting in prepared seed beds.  Plant ½ to ¾” deep.



Germination requirements: The majority of seed will germinate the first spring. Best results occur from fall planting in prepared seedbeds.  Plant seed ½ to ¾” deep. Germination of fertilized seed is very uniform. Fall planting of seed is preferred over spring planting as SM seed germinates very early in the spring. Seed stored for spring planting will likely begin germination in storage before soil conditions are favorable for outdoor planting.  Seedlings first put up a cotyledon before the first true leaves appear.  Seedlings require ½ shade the first season but then can tolerate full sun.



Ecology: Sugar maple grows best in moist, deep, fertile well-drained soils.  SM prefers limestone derived soils with a pH range from 5.5 to 7.0.  It does not grow well in highly acidic, saturated, shallow soils over bedrock or very dry soils.  SM grows in mixed hardwood stands often in association with Basswood, Beech, Yellow birch and Black cherry, it can be established in most woodlands with suitable soils and adequate moisture.  Soils that develop under SM stands support a rich diversity of woodland herbs including species commonly found with SM such as Blood root, White trillium, Maiden hair fern and Blue cohosh.  SM is considered a climax species as seedlings will grow in the shade of mature trees and replace itself indefinitely. SM is readily browsed by deer. Where deer populations are high their browsing can permanently prevent adequate maple regeneration. 


sugar maple seed
Acer saccharum samaras hanging from twigs.


sugar maple smaras

Acer saccharum samaras ready for collection.

Acer saccharum

Acer samaras germinating after cold/moist stratifcation for 2 to 3 months

this page posted December 20, 2013