September 18, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
69°F

The search is on for big sugar maples

By Judy A. Totts
Special to The Gazette

The sugar maple, alias acer Saccharum, is on the most-wanted list for the 11th annual Big Tree Contest sponsored by the Medina County Soil and Water Conservation District and The Gazette.

“We’ve hit the easy ones in the past,” said Jim Dieter, district technician with SWCD, citing previous contests that featured white oak, shagbark hickory, wild black cherry and northern catalpa.

Northern red oaks were in the spotlight last year, with the winner owned by Joe and Karen Fugate of Lafayette Township.

This year, Dieter said, sheer numbers will be a challenge because the tree is so common. “And there’s the potential problem of identifying a maple as a sugar maple.”

Dieter explained that there are several varieties of maple trees, including red maples and silver maples.

Some newer crossbred ones are in the mix as well, but only the sugar maple holds the promise of sweet things to come when its sap is boiled down into syrup.

Sugar maples sport five-lobed leaves growing on long stems opposite each other on the branches.

In autumn, they wear a spectacular wardrobe of red, orange or yellow foliage — sometimes with all three on the same tree.

As the trees age, bark may be brown, gray or almost black with orange undertones. Bark texture varies, too, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Web site, featuring “flared vertical plates, semi-ridged or with overlapping shingles.”

For more detailed descriptions, visit the ODNR website at www.dnr.state.oh.us. Go to the forestry division to find an index of Ohio trees.

“Sugar maples typically aren’t a yard tree — there are whole woods of sugar maples,” Dieter said. “It may make it more challenging to locate the exact tree.” It helps, he said, if the tree is marked by a ribbon or a stake driven in the ground in front of it.

“We’ve had people mark the path to the tree using orange cones and that makes it fun,” he said, like following a treasure map.

Dieter admitted his own tree identification skills have sharpened since he and Beth Schnabel, SWCD education specialist, started the competition to raise awareness and promote appreciation of the trees and foster conservation efforts.

“I’m always learning something new,” he said.

The judging procedures are based on requirements of the Ohio Big Tree Program, an ongoing evaluation of trees to select state champions. Points are given for circumference, height and crown spread.

The tree must be located in Medina County but does not have to be owned by the nominator.

Permission must be obtained from the tree owner. Qualified SWCD personnel measure the trees, and their decision will be final.

The grand prize will be a $25 coupon to be used for the district’s 2014 tree seedling sale, plus a plaque engraved with the owner’s name and the tree’s statistics.

Nominations will be accepted through the close of business on May 31.

For an entry form or information, call Dieter at (330) 722-2628, ext. 109.

Entry forms also may be downloaded from the

SWCD website at www.medinaswcd.org.

Contact Judy Totts at areanews@medina-gazette.com.