The leaves are deciduous, 8-15 cm long and equally wide with five palmate lobes. The basal lobes are relatively small, while the upper lobes are larger and deeply notched. In contrast with the angular notching of the Silver Maple, however, the notches tend to be rounded at their interior. The fall color is often spectacular, ranging from bright yellow through orange to fluorescent red-orange. Sugar maples also have a tendency to color unevenly in fall. In some trees, all colors above can be seen at the same time. There is also a tendency, as there is also with Red Maples (A. rubrum) to see a certain part of a mature tree change color weeks ahead of or behind the remainder of the tree. The leaf buds are pointy and brown colored. The recent years growth twigs are green, and turn dark brown.
The flowers are in corymbs of 5-10 together, yellow-green and without petals; flowering occurs in early spring after 30-55 growing degree days. The fruit is a double samara with two winged seeds, the seeds are globose, 7-10 mm diameter, the wing 2-3 cm long. The seeds fall from the tree in autumn.
It is closely related to the Black Maple, which is sometimes included in this species but sometimes separated as Acer nigrum. The western American Bigtooth Maple (Acer grandidentatum) is also treated as a variety or subspecies of Sugar Maple by some botanists.
The Sugar Maple is also often confused with the Norway Maple, though they are not closely related within the genus. The Sugar Maple is most easily identified by clear sap in the leaf petiole (the Norway Maple has white sap), brown sharp-tipped buds (the Norway Maple has blunt green or reddish purple buds), and shaggy bark on older trees (the Norway Maple bark has small grooves). Also, the leaf lobes of the Sugar Maple have a more triangular shape, in contrast to the squarish lobes of the Norway Maple.
Sugar Maple is among the most shade tolerant of large deciduous trees. Among North American maples its shade tolerance is exceeded only by the Striped Maple, a smaller tree. Like other maples, its shade tolerance is manifested in its ability to germinate and persist under a closed canopy as an understory plant, and respond with rapid growth to the increased light formed by a gap in the canopy. The sugar maple can grow comfortably in any type of soil, except sand.
Human influences have contributed to the decline of the Sugar Maple in many regions. Its role as a species of mature forests has led it to be replaced by more opportunistic species in areas where forests are cut over. The Sugar Maple also exhibits a greater susceptibility to pollution than other species of maple. Acid rain and soil acidification are some of the primary contributing factors to maple decline. Also, the increased use of salt over the last several decades on streets and roads for de-icing purposes has decimated the sugar maple's role as a "street-front" tree.
In some parts of eastern North America, particularly near urbanized areas, the Sugar Maple is being displaced by the Norway Maple. The Norway Maple is also highly shade tolerant, but is considerably more tolerant of urban conditions resulting in the Sugar Maple's replacement in those areas heavily disturbed by human activities.
The wood is one of the hardest and densest of the maples, and is prized for furniture and flooring. Bowling alleys and bowling pins are both commonly manufactured from sugar maple. Trees with wavy wood grain, which can occur in curly, quilted and "birdseye maple" form, are especially valued. Maple is also the wood used for basketball courts, including the floors used by the NBA, and it is a popular wood for baseball bats, along with white ash.
The Sugar Maple is a favorite street and garden tree, because it is easy to propagate and transplant, is fairly fast-growing, and has beautiful fall color. The shade and the shallow, fibrous roots may interfere with grass growing under the trees. Deep well-drained loam is the best rooting medium, although Sugar Maple can grow well on sandy soil which does not become excessively dry. Light (or loose) clay soils are also well known to support Sugar Maple. Poorly drained areas are unsuitable and the species is especially short-lived on flood-prone clay flats. Its salt tolerance is low and it is very sensitive to boron.Cultivars