Some Varieties and Their Properties.
The maple tree is well known in Canada, in fact Canada is commonly known as "The Land of the Maple." There it is also used as the national emblem, but as in England it is not so well known we propose to give some information about a few varieties of maple, with some of its best-known properties.
Acer: a Latin word, signifying vigorous or sharp. The wood was formerly manufactured into the heads of pikes and other weapons. The species consists of trees, most of them yielding a saccharine juice from the trunk, branches, and leaves.
Acer, Pseudo-Platanus, Plane Tree, named by Scott, grows wild in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Italy. It is remarkably hardy, and will grow with an erect stem, exposed to the highest winds or to the sea breezes. It is in leaf in the middle of April, and on their first appearance the leaves are of a pleasant green, but they exude a clammy juice so abundantly that they attract a variety of insects, which soon perforate and disfigure them. The flowers of none of the species are of any beauty. The shade of the tree is said to do less damage to pasture than most trees. The timber was formerly much used by the turner, and is still in repute by the saddlemaker and the millwright. In spring and autumn, if the trunk be pierced, it yields an abundance of juice, from which a good wine may be made, or sugar to a certain extent be procured by evaporation.
Acer Rubrum grows in swamps in Pennsylvania, where the people use it for almost all sorts of woodwork. With the bark they dye a dark blue, and make a good black ink. The Canadians tap the tree for the juice, out of which they make sugar, and treacle. The scarlet flowers of this species come out in the spring, before the leaves; they are without petals, and have no more than six stamens.
Acer Saccharinium bears a considerable resemblance to Acer Platanoides, especially when young. From this tree, and probably from other species, the inhabitants of North America make a very good sort of sugar. The trees are tapped in February, March, and April, during warm days and frosty nights. The incision is made with an axe or auger for about 2 inches deep. A spout of sumach or elder is introduced, through which the sap flows for from four to six weeks into a trough, by which it is carried into a larger receiver, from which it is carried, after being strained, to the boiler. The boiling or refining process is, or should be, carried on in the same manner as that for cane sugar in the West Indies. A tree of an ordinary size yields in good seasons from 20 to 30 gallons of sap, from which are made five to six pounds of granulated sugar, and a certain amount of different grades of syrup.
Acer Platanoides grows on the mountains of the northern countries of Europe, descending in some parts of Norway to the sea shore. It abounds in the North of Poland and Lithuania, and is common through Germany, Switzerland, and Savoy. On a tolerable soil it attains a large size, and the leaves being smooth, and of a shining green, as large or larger than those of the sycamore, and being seldom eaten or defaced, because the tree abounds in a sharp, milky juice disliked by insects, they have a much better appearance than those of the sycamore. In the spring, when the flowers, which are of a fine yellow colour, are out, this tree has great beauty. Hansbury observes that in the autumn the leaves fade to a golden yellow colour, which produces a good effect at that season, when the different tints of the decaying vegetable world are displayed. He says further that it is a quick-growing tree, arrives at a great bulk, and is one of the best trees for sheltering habitations. Linneus recommends it for sheltering walks and plantations, and yielding a juice from which sugar may be made (if it be wounded in the winter), and for cutting cut into a white, smooth wood, fit for the stocks of guns, and for use by the joiner and the turner. Dr. Hunter observes that it is a quick grower, arrives at a great bulk, and answers all the purposes of the sycamore. The raising of it for use, as well as for ornament and variety, should not be neglected.
All the maple trees belong in the Linnean system to Class 23, Polygamia Monaecia; Natural. Order, Acerineae.
Common Plants and their Uses in Medicine was written by Richard Lawrence Hool, F.N.A.M.H., in 1922.