Just about everyone likes maple syrup. Most maple syrup sold in stores comes from Sugar Maple orchards in New England and Canada, but it is possible to make syrup from other species of maples … if you have the time and patience.

There are more than 100 species of maple trees that are native to Asia, Europe, Africa, and North America, but only 14 species have sap with a high enough sugar content to make syrup production a viable undertaking.

The sugar content of sap is highest in – you guessed it! – Sugar Maples. It takes 40 gallons of sap from a Sugar Maple to make 1 gallon of syrup. Depending on the species of the other maples that can be used for syrup production, up to 80 gallons of sap may be required to make 1 gallon of syrup. A healthy maple tree can produce between 5 to 15 gallons of sap in a season, depending on the size of the tree, its species, location, age, and the weather.

The Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is the most common tree not only in Virginia, but throughout most of the eastern U.S., and its sap can be used to make maple syrup. it is a very adaptable species, with the widest tolerance for varying soil conditions of any other tree native to North American forests. It is native to every county in Virginia from the coast to the mountains. Red Maples are not generally used for commercial syrup production because their sap season is shorter than other maples. If you drive around Nelson, you can see a few trees that have already started to bud out. Once budding occurs, sap collection must be discontinued. Squirrels eat the buds, birds eat the seeds, and deer browse new sprouts. They don’t need maple syrup to enjoy the flavor!

by Susan McSwain for FoN