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Hard vs Soft Maple Tree

Q: Does the hard maple produce the best maple syrup?

What is the difference between the two, the hard maple vs. the soft maple? Which one is known as the sugar maple, which has the most brilliant color in the fall?

Does the fall color indicate that the tree has more sugar content in the sap? Looking forward to your reply. Helen

A: Both Norway and sugar maples have hard wood so they both could be called hard maple, although I think most people more commonly call the sugar maple a hard maple than the Norway.

Silver maple has very soft, brittle wood that is prone to breakage, so it's the one we commonly call the soft maple. Red maple falls somewhere in between hard and soft.

The fall color doesn't indicate sugar content. Rather, it is the slowdown in production of chlorophyll (which gives leaves their green color) that allows the natural pigments of the leaves to appear in fall.

Anthocyanins produce the red, purple and scarlet colors, carotenes produce the orange colors. Xanthophylls provide the yellow in leaves, just as they cause the yellow skin of Golden Delicious Apples.

Given this, you can determine which of the above pigments the chlorophyll hides during the summer by the tree's color in the fall!

Q: We live in the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and recently had a tree replaced with a Cleveland maple. Where may I search for information on this tree?

A: The Cleveland maple is a cultivar of the Norway maple, so it has the slow-growing characteristics of the Norway. These maples have been widely-planted in tree-lawns since they don't get large in any hurry, and seem not to disrupt sidewalks as much as a result.

They are quite hardy, especially for colder climes like Cleveland (and Milwaukee), so it should do quite well for you. During my research, the following web addresses yielded good information:
Site 1and
Site 2

I also found several other sites with more information, including a Street Tree Evaluation Project that happened right in our backyard in Lyndhurst, on a street that a friend of mine happens to live on.

I wasn't aware of this project until now, so next time I'm in his neighborhood, I'll have to take a closer look at these maples. Last time I was by there, they were looking pretty good, though!

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Tom Mugridge

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