MAPLE, in botany. The maple (O.E. mapel-tréow, mapulder) and sycamore trees are species of Acer, of the order Acerineae. The genus includes about sixty species, natives of Europe, North America and Asia, especially the Himalayas, China and Japan. Maples are for the most part trees with opposite, long-stalked, palmately lobed leaves. The flowers are in fascicles, appearing before the leaves as in the Norway maple, or in racemes or panicles appearing with, or later than, the leaves as in sycamore. Some of the flowers are often imperfect, the stamens or pistil being more or less aborted. The fruit is a two-winged “samara.” The genus was represented in the Tertiary flora of Europe, when it extended into the polar regions; nineteen species have been recorded from the Miocene strata of Oeningen in Switzerland. The common maple, A. campestre, is the only species indigenous to Great Britain. This and the sycamore were described by Gerard in 1597 (Herball, p. 1299), the latter being “a stranger to England.” Many species have been introduced, especially from Japan, for ornamental purposes. The following are more especially worthy of notice.
Acer campestre, the common maple, is common in hedgerows, but less often seen as a tree, when it is seldom more than 20 ft. high, though in sheltered situations 30 ft. or more is attained. The leaves are generally less than 2 in. across, and the five main lobes are blunter than in the sycamore. The clusters of green flowers terminate the young shoots and are erect; the two wings of the fruit spread almost horizontally, and are smaller than in the sycamore. It occurs in northern Europe, the Caucasus, and northern Asia. The wood is excellent fuel, and makes the best charcoal. It is compact, of a fine grain, sometimes beautifully veined, and takes a high polish. Hence it has been celebrated from antiquity for tables, &c. The wood of the roots is frequently knotted, and valuable for small objects of cabinet work. The young shoots, being flexible and tough, are employed in France as whips.
A. pseudo-platanus, the sycamore or great maple, is a handsome tree of quick growth, with a smooth bark. The leaves are large, with finely acute and serrated lobes, affording abundant shade. The flowers are borne in long pendulous racemes, and the two wings of the fruit are ascending. It lives from 140 to 200 years. It is found wild chiefly in wooded mountainous situations in central Europe. The wood when young is white, but old heartwood is yellow or brownish. Like the common maple it is hard and takes a high polish. It is much prized by wheelwrights, cabinet-makers, sculptors, &c., on the Continent; while knotted roots are used for inlaying. Sugar has been obtained from the sap of this as from other species, the most being one ounce from a quart of sap. The latter has also been made into wine in the Highlands of Scotland. It withstands the sea and mountain breezes better than most other timber trees, and is often planted near farm-houses and cottages in exposed localities for the sake of its dense foliage. Its wood is valued in turnery for cups, bowls and pattern blocks. It produces abundance of seeds, and is easily raised, but it requires good and tolerably dry soil; it will not thrive on stiff clays nor on dry sands or chalks. There are many varieties, the variegated and cut-leaved being the most noticeable. The lobed shape of its leaf and its dense foliage caused it to be confused with the true sycamore—Ficus sycamorus—of scripture.
A. platanoides, the Norway maple, is met with from Norway to Italy, Greece, and central and south Russia. It was introduced into Britain in 1683. It is a lofty tree (from 40 to 70 ft.), resembling the sycamore, but with yellow flowers, appearing before the leaves, and more spreading wings to the fruit. There are several varieties. The wood is used for the same purposes as that of the sycamore. Sugar has been made from the sap in Norway and Sweden.
Many varieties of A. palmatum, generally known as polymorphum, with variously laciniated and more or less coloured foliage, have been introduced from Japan as ornamental shrubs. The branches and corolla are purple, the fruit woolly. The foliage of the typical form is bright green with very pointed lobes. It occurs in the central mountains of Nippon and near Nagasaki. Beautiful varieties have been introduced under the varietal names, ampelopsifolium, atropurpureum, dissectum, &c. They are remarkable for the coppery purple tint that pervades the leaves and young growths of some of the varieties. Other Japanese species are A. japonicum, the varieties of which are among the most handsome of small deciduous shrubs; A. rufinerve, with the habit of the sycamore; A. distylum, bearing leaves without lobes; A. diabolicum, with large plane-like leaves; and A. carpinifolium, with foliage resembling that of the hornbeam.
A. saccharinum, a North American species, the sugar, rock, or bird’s-eye maple, was introduced in 1735. It sometimes attains to 70 or even over 100 ft., more commonly 50 to 60 ft. It is remarkable for the whiteness of the bark. The wood is white, but acquires a rosy tinge after exposure to light. The grain is fine and close, and when polished has a silky lustre. The timber is used instead of oak where the latter is scarce, and is employed for axle-trees and spokes, as well as for Windsor chairs, &c. It exhibits two accidental forms in the arrangement of the fibres, an undulated one like those of the curled maple (A. rubrum), and one of spots, which gives the name bird’s-eye to the wood of this species. Like the curled maple, it is used for inlaying mahogany. It is much prized for bedsteads, writing-desks, shoe-lasts, &c. The wood forms excellent fuel and charcoal, while the ashes are rich in alkaline principles, furnishing a large proportion of the potash exported from Boston and New York. Sugar is principally extracted from this species, the sap being boiled and the syrup when reduced to a proper consistence runs into moulds to form cakes. Trees growing in low and moist situations afford the most sap but least sugar. A cold north-west wind, with frosty nights and sunny days in alternation, tends to incite the flow, which is more abundant during the day than the night. A thawing night is said to promote the flow, and it ceases during a south-west wind and at the approach of a storm; and so sensitive are the trees to aspect and climatic variations that the flow of sap on the south and east side has been noticed to be earlier than on the north and west side of the same tree. The average quantity of sap per tree is from 12 to 24 gallons in a season.
A. rubrum, the red-flowering or scarlet maple, is a middle-sized tree, and was introduced in 1656. The bright scarlet or dull red flowers appear before the leaves in March and April. The wood, like that of other species, is applicable to many purposes—as for the seats of Windsor chairs, turnery, &c. The grain in very old trees is sometimes undulated, which suggested the name of curled maple, and gives beautiful effects of light and shade on polished surfaces. The most constant use of curled maple is for the stocks of fowling-pieces and rifles, as it affords toughness and strength combined with lightness and elegance. The inner bark is dusky red. On boiling, it yields a purple colour which with sulphate of iron affords a black dye. The wood is inferior to that of the preceding species in strength and as fuel. Sugar was made from the sap by the French Canadians, but the production is only half as great as that from the sugar maple. In Britain it is cultivated as an ornamental tree, as being conspicuous for its flowers in spring, and for its red fruit and foliage in autumn.
A. macrophyllum, a north-western American species, is a valuable timber tree.
For a good account of the North American species see C. S. Sargent’s Silva of North America, vol. ii. See also under Sugar.