EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


March 3, 2013

Oh Sugar!

Topsfield tours are educationally delicious

It’s sticky, sweet, and tastes great on pancakes. But besides that, how much do you know about maple syrup?

Not much? The Mass Audubon society can help.

Warmer days and freezing nights mean the sap is running. That means the maple enthusiasts at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield are welcoming crowds of visitors eager to learn where their syrup comes from.

“We’re going to show you how we magically transform sap into syrup,” said Scott Santino, the sanctuary naturalist.

On a recent snowy morning, Santino was speaking to a large crowd that included many children, college students, and adults. He turned the tour over to Angela Walsh, a sanctuary field teacher. She led the group to one of the sanctuary’s many trees, and taught them how to identify a sugar maple by it’s egg shape, opposite branching, and chocolate brown buds.

“Yum, chocolate,” she said. “Doesn’t that sound delicious?”

But the real treat was not the buds, nor chocolate. Rather, it’s in what runs food to them.

During the summer and fall months, sugar maples, like all trees, photosynthesize light and water to form food. The extra nutrients that the tree makes are stored in sap. The sap keeps the tree healthy during the winter, and helps to push the leaves from those chocolate-brown buds in the spring.

“The sap feeds the tree from within,” Walsh said. “That’s why we don’t want to take more than the tree can sustain.”

During the late winter and early spring, sap is moving up toward the branches during the warm days, and back to the roots to protect the tree during freezing nights. Tapping a sugar maple takes advantage of this natural movement of the sap.

“The trees naturally drip sap when its warm,” Walsh said. “From any kind of cut, bird hole, or opening.”

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