Maple Project

The maple trees that grow on Georgetown Island are mostly Red Maple (Acer rubrum), cousins to the more famous Sugar Maple (A. saccharum).  We tapped them for syrup when I was a kid, but the sugar content of Red Maple sap is only half that of the Sugar Maple, and it was hard work to get even a few gallons of syrup per year.  I’m planning to change all that, if not for me than for future generations, by planting a swath of sugar maples on the west-facing slope running down to Robinhood Cove.  There is already a single sugar maple at the foot of the southernmost field, planted some years ago by my grandfather and waiting patiently for company.

Last winter I found a website at Cornell describing a Sugar Maple improvement program, in which researchers selected trees with a significantly higher sugar content than their neighbors and propagated them.  As it turns out, the variability in sugar content of maple sap is at least to some extent genetically determined, and the program has seeds and rooted seedlings available on a limited basis.  I corresponded with the researchers at Cornell and got a ziploc bag full of seeds from the “sweet trees” in the spring, and I germinated them in the fridge and transplanted them out in pots in the back yard over the summer.  They are now in the ground in the old pumpkin patch, waiting for me to clear some land for them on the slope west of the orchard.  I also put in a request for a dozen rooted cuttings from Cornell, which will be a surer bet genetically, though carrying an increased risk of disease susceptibility, as with any monoculture.  Hopefully these arrive in the spring and the maple project can begin in earnest.  I plan to do some thinning in the woods this winter where the trees will be going, now that the apple orchard site is clear.


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