Acer /ˈeɪsər/ is a genus of trees and shrubs commonly known as maple. The genus is placed in the family Sapindaceae. There are approximately 128 species, most of which are native to Asia, with a number also appearing in Europe, northern Africa, and North America. Only one species, Acer laurinum, extends to the Southern Hemisphere. The type species of the genus is the sycamore maple, Acer pseudoplatanus, the most common maple species in Europe. The maples have easily recognizable palmate leaves and distinctive winged fruits. The closest relatives of the maples are the horse chestnuts.
Maple flowers are green, yellow, orange or red. Though individually small, the effect of an entire tree in flower can be striking in several species. Some maples are an early spring source of pollen and nectar for bees.
The distinctive fruits are called samaras, "maple keys", "helicopters", "whirlybirds" or "polynoses". These seeds occur in distinctive pairs each containing one seed enclosed in a "nutlet" attached to a flattened wing of fibrous, papery tissue. They are shaped to spin as they fall and to carry the seeds a considerable distance on the wind. People often call them "helicopters" due to the way that they spin as they fall. During World War II, the US Army developed a special air drop supply carrier that could carry up to 65 pounds (29 kg) of supplies and was based on the Maple seed. Seed maturation is usually in a few weeks to six months after flowering, with seed dispersal shortly after maturity. However, one tree can release hundreds of thousands of seeds at a time. Depending on the species, the seeds can be small and green to orange and big with thicker seed pods. The green seeds are released in pairs, sometimes with the stems still connected. The yellow seeds are released individually and almost always without the stems. Most species require stratification in order to germinate, and some seeds can remain dormant in the soil for several years before germinating.
Some species of maple are extensively planted as ornamental trees by homeowners, businesses and municipalities due to their fall colour, relatively fast growth, ease of transplanting, and lack of hard seeds that would pose a problem for mowing lawns. Particularly popular are Norway maple, silver maple, Japanese maple, and red maple. Other maples, especially smaller or more unusual species, are popular as specimen trees.
The sugar maple (A. saccharum) is tapped for sap, which is then boiled to produce maple syrup or made into maple sugar or maple taffy. It takes about 40 litres (42 US qt) of sugar maple sap to make 1 litre (1.1 US qt) of syrup. While any Acer species may be tapped for syrup, many do not have sufficient quantities of sugar to be commercially useful. The maple syrup industry is concentrated in Quebec, Canada and worth about half a billion Canadian dollars annually.
Some of the larger maple species have valuable timber, particularly Sugar maple in North America, and Sycamore maple in Europe. Sugar maple wood—often known as "hard maple"—is the wood of choice for bowling pins, bowling alley lanes, pool cue shafts, and butcher's blocks. Maple wood is also used for the manufacture of wooden baseball bats, though less often than ash or hickory due to the tendency of maple bats to shatter if they do break. The maple bat was introduced to Major League Baseball (MLB) in 1998 by Sam Bat founder Sam Holman. Today it is the standard maple bat most in use by professional baseball. Maple is also commonly used in archery as the core material in the limbs of a recurve bow due to its stiffness and strength.
Maple wood is often graded based on physical and aesthetic characteristics. The most common terminology includes the grading scale from common #2; which is unselected and often used for craft woods; common #1, used for commercial and residential buildings; clear; and select grade, which is sought for fine woodworking.
Some maple wood has a highly decorative wood grain, known as flame maple, quilt maple, birdseye maple and burl wood. This condition occurs randomly in individual trees of several species, and often cannot be detected until the wood has been sawn, though it is sometimes visible in the standing tree as a rippled pattern in the bark.
These select decorative wood pieces also have subcategories that further filter the aesthetic looks. Crotch Wood, Bees Wing, Cats Paw, Old Growth and Mottled are some terms used to describe the look of these decorative woods.
Maples have a long history of use for furniture production in the United States.
Maple is considered a tonewood, or a wood that carries sound waves well, and is used in numerous musical instruments. Maple is harder and has a brighter sound than mahogany, which is another major tonewood used in instrument manufacture.
The back, sides, and neck of most violins, violas, cellos, and double basses are made from maple.
Electric guitar necks are commonly made from maple, having good dimensional stability. The necks of the Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster were originally an entirely maple one piece neck, but later were also available with rosewood fingerboards. Les Paul desired an all maple guitar, but due to the weight of maple, only the tops of Gibson's Les Paul guitars are made from carved maple, often using quilted or flamed maple tops. Due to its weight, very few solid body guitars are made entirely from maple, but many guitars have maple necks, tops or veneers.
Maple is also often used to make bassoons and sometimes for other woodwind instruments like maple recorders.
Many drums are made from maple. From the 70s to the 90s, maple drum kits were a vast majority of all drum kits made, but in recent years, birch has become popular for drums once again. Some of the best drum-building companies use maple extensively throughout their mid-pro range. Maple drums are favored for their bright resonant sound. Certain types of drum sticks are also made from maple.
As they are a major source of pollen in early spring before many other plants have flowered, maples are important to the survival of honeybees.
Maple is used as pulpwood. The fibers have relatively thick walls that prevent collapsing upon drying. This gives good bulk and opacity in paper. Maple also gives paper good printing properties.
Many maples have bright autumn foliage, and many countries have leaf-watching traditions. The sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is the primary contributor to fall "foliage season" in North America, particularly in Central Ontario, Québec, and northern New England, New York, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
In Japan, the custom of viewing the changing colour of maples in the autumn is called momijigari. Nikko and Kyoto are particularly favoured destinations for this activity. In Korea, the same viewing activity is called danpung-nori and the Seoraksan and Naejang-san mountains are among the best-known destinations.
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