For Trees Lovers with a Sweet Tooth…
Late February and early March are maple sugar season! And you can experience first hand how maple sugar and syrup is made at local parks and nature centers in the Baltimore area.
Also, did you know:
- Maple sugar and syrup comes from a sugary sap produced by trees as an evolutionary biological function to survive winter.
- In autumn, trees in colder climates convert starch into sugar to prevent freezing in winter (sort of like antifreeze for trees). The fluid within cells becomes concentrated with sugars which lowers the freezing point inside cells making the cell membranes more pliable and preventing rupturing from ice crystals.
- Most commercial maple syrup comes from Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum). But Sugar maples are not the only trees that produce a sugary sap that can be tapped! All maples produce the yummy liquid as well as other trees Native to North America. Among the these are birches, walnuts and sycamores.
- Maple sugar and syrup was first used by Native peoples of North America. Maple sap was collected and converted to syrups and sugars (or drank as a sweet water) by tribes all along the mid-atlantic and northeast as well as the northwest where maples are found and the right winter conditions produce the sweet sap. Among the Iroquoian (Haudenosaunee) people, maple trees are apart of their creation myths. Every year in March, they celebrate the Maple moon (as part of their 13 moon lunar calendar). The Haudenosaunee would make small cuts into trees and collect the sap using flat sticks and buckets. Later sap was boiled down in clay pots and used for cooking, drinking and other medicinal uses. Many other tribes including the Algonquian speaking and eastern Souian tribes also collected maple sap. When Europeans arrived these people taught them this knowledge.
- Today there are 16000 commercial maple syrup producers in North America. Canada is the largest producer, generating around 7,000,000 US gal (80% of the maple syrup sold). The US produces approximately 4,500,000 gal.
Written by Desiree Shelley
Photo courtesy of Dutch Gold Honey