Following the Nature Trail south, you'll arrive at a fork in the trail (pictured above). Two shagbark hickory trees stand at the fork, identifiable by their shaggy bark. Just before them, to the left of the trail, stands a sugar maple tree (left most tree pictured).
Making tea from staghorn sumac is just one of hundreds or thousands of ways humans interact with trees. Have you ever drizzled maple syrup over warm pancakes? Thick, sugary maple syrup, famously made across the Northeast, starts its journey as sap in maple trees.
Trees, as we learned earlier, are producers, and use light energy, water, and carbon dioxide to produce glucose, or sugar, in a process known as photosynthesis. Producers use some of this energy to grow, and store the rest for future use. In the winter, the sugar maple stores its glucose in its roots and trunk. Then, as winter transitions to spring, daytime temperatures begin to reach 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, while nighttime temperatures continue to dip below freezing. Indigenous peoples call this time the Sugar Maple Moon.
Longer days tell the tiny buds of the sugar maple that spring is arriving and it’s time to start growing. They send hormonal signals down the trunk and to the roots, calling for sugar and energy. The roots draw water in through the soil, and together the water and sugar flow up through the trunk, feeding the buds nutrients and energy. This sugar-rich sap only flows up the maple tree for a few weeks each year. And that’s when we collect the sugar maple gift, by drilling holes in the trunk, a process hundreds of years old, known as tapping.
The watery sap is heated to evaporate excess moisture, leaving a thick syrup concentrated in maple sugar. And when this warm syrup flows over our breakfast plates, as it once flowed through the maple tree’s tissue, we act as primary consumers in the forest food chain.