There is a tree that wears a garland of lights every October and November. It’s not a Christmas tree. This tree needs no manmade string of lights to make it glow. Its’ leaves boast a yellow and golden and orange and red illumination that, on sunny days, becomes a thousand little lights that can’t be duplicated by any of our best efforts. This tree is the sugar maple, Acer saccharum; not a particularly common tree in Georgia, but if you are fortunate enough to have one thriving in your yard, you are blessed with a tree that offers a beautiful form, “unsurpassed fall color” (Dirr) and which will ultimately be a dominant species in an undisturbed forest site, or a climax species.
Almost all of the good, local nurseries carry some sugar maple cultivar. The thing to remember if would like to plant a sugar maple in your yard is that it won’t thrive in areas heavy with air pollution. And plant it in a well draining site with adequate moisture.
There is another maple, Acer barbatum, that is sometimes called southern sugar maple, but you should not confuse it with Acer saccharum. Acer barbatum is a smaller, understory tree getting only about 25 feet high. The leaf is similar to Acer saccharum but turns its fall color two weeks later than true sugar maple.
Sugar maples are the trees of my childhood memories when every maple tree with a low enough branch was an invitation to climb. And sugar maples are the trees of the memories of my kid’s elementary school years. I remember waiting for them in front of their school; waiting for their 2:45 bell to ring, and being encompassed by the incredible, amplified light of those maple trees in fall. The picture accompanying this blog is of that very scene.
There are other trees I love dearly for their beauty or grandeur: the mighty oak, the expressive beech, the delicate Japanese maple. I also love silver maple, though it is too weak a tree to love too dearly. But, when autumn comes around there is only one tree whose beauty is incomparable – the sugar maple.