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Extension > Garden > Yard and Garden > Trees and Shrubs > Sugar maple and Black maple

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Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and Black maple (Acer nigrum)

Kathy Zuzek and Rebecca Koetter

Plant description

Mature height: 75 to 100'
Mature width: 50 to 75'
Growth rate: Slow to medium
Plant form: Upright, rounded
Deciduous or evergreen: Deciduous
Native range: Maine south to Georgia and west to North Dakota and Oklahoma
Native to Minnesota: Yes
Invasive in Minnesota: No


Light: Full sun to full shade
Soil texture: Loamy sands to loams
Soil pH: 6 to 7.5
Soil moisture: Moist soils and well-drained soils
Hardiness zone: 3 to 8
Pests and stresses: Visit What's wrong with my plant? – Maple for a list of the most common maple pests and stresses in Minnesota.
Other: Intolerant of urban conditions including compacted soils, deicing salts, dry and hot soils. Wood and branch attachments are generally strong, rarely breaking from ice or wind storms.

Sugar maple in the landscape

Sugar maple or hard maple is a native tree valued for its beautiful and varied fall color. In the wild, it grows throughout Minnesota with the exception of some far western and far northern counties. It is one of the few tree species that establishes and grows well in full shade. Sugar maple grows best in cool, moderately moist soils with good drainage. Planting sites with compacted soil should be avoided. This species is not a good choice for boulevard plantings because it is sensitive to deicing salts and does not perform well in areas such as tree lawns where pavement restricts root growth. Sugar maples should only be planted in areas such as lawns, parks, golf courses, etc. where roots can grow and spread extensively. Under these conditions, sugar maples are typically long-lived, large trees in the landscape that provide shade and serve as accent or specimen plants in autumn. Plant sugar maples in full sun for best red and orange fall color. In sunnier planting sites, it is important to protect the thin-barked trunks of young sugar maple trees in winter with tree guards to prevent the occurrence of sunscald and frost cracks during winter. Sugar maple seed is a food source for many species of birds, squirrels and other mammals. This species is also the primary source of sap used in maple syrup production.

In Minnesota, drooping clusters of flowers that are both wind- and insect-pollinated appear on sugar maples from mid-April through early June. Flowers are chartreuse in color and stands of flowering sugar maples provide colorful additions to Minnesota's spring landscape. 3 - 7.5" dark green leaves with 5 pointed lobes are produced opposite of each other along branches. Sugar maple canopies are thick and dense during the growing season and produce full shade underneath the tree canopy. The fruit of a maple tree is called a samara and includes a seed surrounded by a papery wing. Samaras are produced in fused pairs and mature from late August to early October. As seed fall from the tree, they separate and can be seen twirling through the air on wind currents. The main season of interest for sugar maples is fall when foliage color changes from dark green to striking tones of golden yellow, orange, and red.

P. Wray, ISU,

Sugar maple leaf

Black maple in the landscape

Black maple is so similar to sugar maple both in appearance and growth requirements that it is often listed as a subspecies of sugar maple. Small differences separate the two groups: darker bark color on black maples than on sugar maples, the presence of stipules at the base of some leaf stalks on black maple leaves vs. their absence on sugar maples, drooping leaves on black maples vs. non-drooping leaves on sugar maples, and hairier lower leaf surfaces on black maples than on sugar maples. Black maple also has a smaller native range than sugar maples. The importance of black maple in the landscape is its added ability to tolerate drought. It may also be more tolerant of short term flooding than sugar maple; in the wild, black maple sometimes grows on river floodplains while sugar maple is very sensitive to flooding and is found more commonly in upland areas.

P. Wray, ISU,

Black maple samaras

USDA Forest Service Agric. Handb. 654

Native range of sugar maple in North America

Minnesota DNR

Native range of sugar maple in Minnesota

K. Zuzek, UMN Extension

Red fall color of sugar maple

K. Zuzek, UMN Extension

Yellow fall color of sugar maple

J. Berger,

Sugar maple flower

USDA Forest Service Agric. Handb. 654

Native range of black maple in North America

Minnesota DNR

Native range of black maple in Minnesota

P. Wray, ISU,

Droopy leaf of black maple

Some cultivars grown in Minnesota:

  Cultivar traits:
Cultivar Fall color Growth habit Pest & stress resistance Size
(h x w)
Black maple (A. nigrum) Yellow, red Rounded Heat, drought 75' x 50'
Apollo® sugar maple Yellow-orange, red Columnar Japanese beetle 30' x 12'
Crescendo™ sugar maple Orange-red Oval Drought, heat 40' x 30'
Fall Fiesta® sugar maple Orange, red Upright, rounded Sunscald, frost cracks, leaf tatter 70' x 50'
Green Mountain® sugar maple Yellow, orange, scarlet Oval Heat, drought 60' x 40'
Unity sugar maple Yellow, orange-red Upright Frost cracks 50' x 30'


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