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Sugar Maples Accent Autumn

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Acer saccharumPhoto by Todd Lasseigne

Acer saccharum
Photo by Todd Lasseigne

Of the many maples recommended for planting in North Carolina landscapes, none produces more wonderful fall color than the sugar maple, Acer saccharum. Its dull green summer leaves turn a gorgeous orange and yellow with the first frosts. Because of its colossal size, reaching heights greater than 60 feet with similar spread, it is not the tree for the courtyard or small residential property. This beauty is a great tree for large yards.

Given plenty of room to mature and precious years, a sugar maple is almost unsurpassable as a shade tree in the cooler regions of the Tar Heel state. Sugar maple, like Norway maple, is better adapted to the Piedmont Triad and westward unless a heat-tolerant cultivar is selected. It is a slower-growing tree than are red and silver maples, but this beauty has a desirable symmetrical form maturing into an upright oval to round tree. Its strong branches hold up well in ice storms, unlike the silver maple, and are distinguished by smooth gray bark that provides winter interest. Unfortunately, you will not see this tree lining many city streets as it is adversely affected by air pollution in urban environments.

Acer saccharumPhoto by Robert E. Lyons

Acer saccharum
Photo by Robert E. Lyons

The newer heat-tolerant cultivars offer more latitude when planting sugar maples in warm Zone 8 landscapes. The cultivar ‘Legacy’ has proven superior in the South and appears to be the best of the drought-tolerant cultivars. Of equal reputation is Green Mountain®, offering dark green leathery foliage with good scorch resistance. If space is a premium, columnar forms are available, such as Appollo™, a slow-growing tree reaching 30 feet in as many years.

As a whole, the genus Acer is one of the treasure troves to be found at the JC Raulston Arboretum where there are dozens of cultivars. In fact, Appollo™ is one of their latest accessions and resides in a new bed adjacent to the parking lot. To learn more, visit

Toby Bost