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The Maples

Nature Bulletin No. 393 Forest Preserve District of Cook County

October 30, 1954 William N. Erickson, president

Roberts Mann David H. Thompson

Conservation Editor Senior Naturalist


In autumn, the upper reaches of the Des Plaines River - for instance at Dam No. 1 and Potowatomi Woods - present a gorgeous spectacle, when the foliage of the sugar maples, of which there are so many, changes to brilliant hues of yellow, orange and scarlet. The Indian name for this stream meant “the tree from which the water flows”, so the French called it “Riviere Aux Plein”: The River of Maples.

The sugar maple is a native in southern Canada and all of our states east of the Great Plains but is most common and vigorous in the northern regions and the higher elevations of the southern Appalachians. We have seen giants that were over 4 feet in diameter and considerably over 100 feet tall. The young trees have smooth silvery bark, which eventually becomes darker, furrowed, and frequently with shreddy plates, something like a shagbark hickory.

It is one of our finest shade trees, seldom injured by insect pests or disease, and third in the production of hardwood lumber. The hard, close-grained lustrous wood takes a beautiful polish and is valuable for furniture. The accidental tree with peculiar grain, known as the curly maple or birdseye maple is especially prized. Maple wood is outstanding for flooring and has many other uses such as bowling pins, shoe trees, canoe paddles, and butchers' blocks.

In a later bulletin, we will tell you about some other maples: the Black Maple which is probably a variety of sugar maple; the Silver Maple of the stream banks and lowlands, which has been widely planted as a street tree because it is quick-growing; the Red Maple which is so beautiful in spring and fall; the little maples of the north woods; Norway, Schwedler and Sycamore Maples from Europe; the box elder which doesn't look like maple. Also how, as boys, we made syrup from the sap of soft maples and box elders.

. . . It took an awful lot of sap and wasn't very good.

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