NY's former champion sugar maple

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MikeK
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NY's former champion sugar maple

Post by MikeK » Wed Nov 30, 2022 4:40 pm

Forgive me if this has been discussed before but there are some inconsistencies here I cannot seem to shake, and I figured if anyone might know more about this tree, it would be someone in this group.

The tree was taken down around 2016 and was located at the Heritage Square Museum in Ontario, NY. It was said to be 18' in girth and 79' tall and "about" 400 years old.
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According to the internet, those are pictures of the tree. I never visited said tree, but if that is it, I can't seem to figure out how it could be 400 years old. Here's why:

That tree was obviously open grown and was maintained that way at least until maturity. What was going on here in NY 400 years ago (from 2016)? Well the best I can tell not much was going on up here in terms of European settlement in 1616. In fact I think the only settlements of Europeans in the the state were in the NYC area. Perhaps French trappers were visiting this area, but I doubt any of them were hanging around mowing grass and other trees away from this particular sugar maple. There are no forts or trading posts in this area that I could find. All the European forts that would even be in central or western NY came far later. For instance Fort Niagara was built 110 years later in 1726 and the French were said to have settled this post in 1679. And that's a ways off from Ontario, NY, which is in between Syracuse and Rochester. The others were built during the French and Indian War (1756-1763).

So that would limit human intervention to the native tribes of this area. I believe this would have been Seneca territory. I've found documentation that Iroquoian tribes knew very well about sugar maples and were said to have invented the practice of collecting sap and boiling it to make syrup or sugars. They even have a creation story about it. It seems probable that they maintained stands of sugar maples i.e. sugar bushes for collection of sap, much like we do today but I don't know that any would have planted and maintained a tree like this. I actually thought that planting something like a tree would be a foreign concept to these people as trees generally plant themselves, and they had such little arable land to work with. But I did find some documentation that states they did plant trees, a white pine in this case, when the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) were formed. Apparently a white pine was planted as it was the symbol of this union having 5 needles per fascicle - the original confederacy having 5 nations. But it still seems odd to me that they would plant a tree like the sugar maple.

If one is to believe that tree was planted by European settlers, as I do, that would probably put at maximum of around 230-240 years old. Europeans began settling this area of the state in earnest post Revolutionary War.

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dbhguru
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Re: NY's former champion sugar maple

Post by dbhguru » Wed Nov 30, 2022 7:00 pm

Mike,

I completely agree with you. People commonly associate large size with advanced age. But large size often has more to do with growing conditions. Large open grown trees that have afforded me the opportunity to examine rings usually show period of very fast growth with individual rings from a third to a half inch wide. Assuming a fairly circular trunk, an 18-foot girth converts to a 34-inch radius. If a third of this is represented by 0.33-inch wide rings, and and another third by 0.2-inch wide rings, and the final third by 0.075-inch wide rings, the resulting age would be 244 years.

We have no way of knowing if this growth scenario applies, but it fits several big sugar maples I've examined.

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

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MikeK
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Re: NY's former champion sugar maple

Post by MikeK » Wed Nov 30, 2022 8:09 pm

Thanks for the calculations.

My mother lives in a house that dates to 1860 that has a number of these type of maples planted out front. I'd guess they are 160 yo at the present time. Their form is exactly like that of the champion maple. I should measure them; a few are quite girthy, but there is a good spread in their size and I believe they are all the same age. I'm also not entirely sure they were planted when the house was constructed, but it was fashionable to do so in that time period. Poor people planted natives, rich people planted exotics from Europe. Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea' was a very fashionable tree from that era. There's a number in the city of Rochester dating from that era. At any rate, I saw a picture of the home from the early 1900s and the trees were there and mature. And even 30 years ago when I lived there I thought those trees were ancient.

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