Department of Natural Resources
Collecting maple sap and boiling it to make maple sugar and syrup is a North American tradition shared from Indigenous communities. Today, northeastern and Great Lakes states as well as the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec are known for commercial syrup production. Although commercial operations are often large, it's simple to tap a few backyard trees to create syrup to share with family and friends. Sap collection is not permitted on public lands.
The sugar maple has leaves that are usually 5-lobed. The lobes near the base of the leaf tend to be wider and more rounded in shape. The leaves are a dark yellowish green above and a lighter green color on the underside. The sugar maple’s leaves turn yellow, orange or red in the fall. Sugar maples have dark gray bark with furrowed ridges.
Sugar maples have the highest sugar content of all maples, with an approximate 40:1 water-to-sugar ratio, and are used in commercial production. Black, red and silver maples can be tapped to produce syrup as well, but the sugar content is lower and it will take more sap to make syrup. Box elders, a maple relative, are sometimes tapped for syrup. Maple sap from the Norway maple, a nonnative tree, is milky and can't be made into syrup.
Maple sap is collected in early spring as the fluctuation between freezing and warmer temperatures creates the necessary pressure for sap to flow. For most of Michigan, March is “maple syrup season,” but depending on location, it can begin earlier or later.