Sugar maple

Sugar maple showing bright orange yellow fall color.

Sugar maple is a Midwest native loved for its exceptional fall color ranging from brilliant yellow to burnt-orange. In summer, its lustrous foliage provides excellent shade, making it a great choice for parks, golf courses, and home landscapes where its roots can spread. Black maple (Acer nigrum), once considered a separate species, is now included as a subspecies of sugar maple.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. 

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

Botanical name:

Acer saccharum

All Common Names:

sugar maple, hard maple, rock maple

Family (English):

Soapberry (formerly Maple)

Family (Botanic):

Sapindaceae (formerly Aceraceae)

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree

Foliage:

  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks

Landscape Uses:

  • Shade tree,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)

Mature Height:

60-75 feet

Mature Width:

40-50 feet

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily),
  • Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil

Acid Soils:

  • Tolerant

Alkaline Soils:

  • Tolerant

Salt Spray:

  • Intolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Intolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Intolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Intolerant

Planting Considerations:

  • Commonly planted,
  • Intolerant of pollution

Ornamental Interest:

  • Fall color

Season of Interest:

  • Early fall,
  • Mid fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous

Shape or Form:

  • Oval,
  • Round,
  • Upright

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate

Transplants Well:

  • Yes

Wildlife:

  • Game birds,
  • Game mammals,
  • Insect pollinators,
  • Small mammals,
  • Songbirds

More Information:

Tree & Plant Care

Avoid pruning in early spring as maples are 'bleeders' and will lose large amounts of sap.

Disease, pests and problems

Susceptible to leaf scorch, verticillium wilt, tar spot and anthracnose.
Pests include borers and cottony maple scale.
Suffers from salt, drought, and air pollution.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 3

Bark color and texture

Bark is gray brown and deeply furrowed.

Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
photo: John Hagstrom
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, texture, and color

Simple leaves in pairs (opposite); 3 to 6 inches long.
The 5 lobed leaves are dark green in summer, changing to yellow, orange and red in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Small, pale yellow flowers in pendulous clusters.
Inconspicuous by themselves, but can be showy when the whole tree is in flower.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fruit are winged seeds in pairs (samaras);  1 inch long.
Green, maturing to brown.

Cultivars and their differences

These plants are cultivars of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits."

Apollo® sugar maple (Acer saccharum ‘Barrett Cole'’):  This cultivar is narrow and more columnar than the species, growing 30 feet tall and 10 feet wide.  Fall color is yellow-orange to red.

Autumn Fest® sugar maple (Acer saccharum ‘JFS-KW8'):  An upright, oval cultivar growing 50 feet high and 35 feet wide.  Faster growing than the species.  Reliable orange-red to red color.

Bonfire™ sugar maple (Acer saccharum ‘Bonfire’):  This cultivar is faster growing than the species; broadly oval form; 50 feet high and 40 feet wide.  Fall color is orange to red.  Good heat tolerance and resistance to leaf hopper.

Commemoration® sugar maple (Acer saccharum ‘Commemoration’):  50 feet tall and 35 feet wide, with an oval to rounded form.  Faster growth rate than the species.  Thick green leaves are resistant to leaf tatter.  Fall color is orange to orange-red.

Crescendo sugar maple  (Acer saccharum ‘Morton’)30  to 40 feet high and 30 feet wide; broadly oval shape.  Tolerant of heat and drought once established.  Dark green leaves that turn an orange-red in the fall.  Introduced by The Morton Arboretum through Chicagoland® Grows.

Fall Fiesta® sugar maple  (Acer saccharum 'Bailsta'):  60 to 70 feet high and 40 to 50 feet wide; oval to rounded shape.  Leathery glossy green leaves turning yellow, orange, and red in fall.  Faster growing than other sugar maples.

Green Mountain® sugar maple  (Acer saccharum ‘Green Mountain’):  50  to 60 feet high and 45 to 50 feet wide; upright, oval shape.  Adaptable to moderately high pH.   Tolerant of heat and dry conditions.  Dark green leathery foliage that turns orange and golden yellow during fall.  Thick leaves that are resistant to leaf scorch.

Legacy® sugar maple (Acer saccharum ‘Legacy’):  Oval form; growing 50 feet high and 35 feet wide.  Very thick, green leaves are resistant to tatter and drought damage.  Red-orange to red fall color.

Majesty® sugar maple (Acer saccharum ‘Flax Mill’):  A broadly oval-shaped cultivar; grows 50 feet high and 40 feet wide.  Resistant to frost cracking.  Orange to red fall color.

Location of Acer saccharum (Sugar maple) at the Arboretum