Almost all of our maple syrup comes from sugar maples, but you can tap any kind of maple for syrup. Sugar maples tend to have sweeter sap (between two and three percent sugar) than other species.
I live in a swampy area, with lots of silver maples. That was my first experiment. I tapped a few medium to very large trees in or at the edge of the swamp, including one that I had to walk across ice to get to (later in the season I visited that one by canoe!). The verdict: Good syrup, slightly less sap sugar content (than sugar maple sap), but since these trees were in the open with big crowns, their sap was fairly sweet! The sap to syrup ratio ranged from 41:1 (great) to 52:1 (not bad), and the sap I measured on March 20, 2021 had a sugar content of 2.6% (very good).
Norway maples were brought to North America by settlers; they are hardy and survive well in urban settings. Unfortunately they have become invasive, often taking over natural areas especially within city limits. Their syrup that I made was very tasty, and the sap:syrup ratio was surprisingly good, about 37:1. Sugar maple, for example, is often around 40:1 (40 buckets collected to get one bucket of sap). I believe that the large crown of the Norway maple that I tapped allowed for a higher sap sugar content. The fact that Norway maple is a good syrup tree has significance since that opens up tapping in many urban areas where they thrive (but permission needed, of course, if the trees aren’t on your land.)
I heard from a colleague that this species makes good syrup, so I had to try it! I tapped three trees, a good size but not really big (about 30 cm diameter). I started late, well into March, and the sap quantity was very low, just a total of 2.3 litres. But the syrup tasted great (below right), some people said it had a nutty flavour, and the 51:1 sap:syrup ratio was fairly good. I’m definitely going to try again. Be cautious, of course, if you have a nut allergy.
This blew me away. Birches are tapped commercially in Canada; their syrup is VERY expensive (and I found out why!). And it’s also not for everyone; in my experience, there are people who LOVE it, and people who HATE it. It’s got a strong flavour, some people say a bit like black licorice (and I mean the real stuff, not Twizzlers).
So, why is it expensive? Well, the best sap:syrup ratio I got was 112:1 – so lots of collecting and lots of boiling for not much syrup! The first time I checked the sap sugar content with a refractometer, I thought it was 0 since it was so much lower than my maple sap. Fortunately a colleague took a look and figured it was around 0.5%.
I tapped four white birch trees and two yellow birch trees. Except for two of the white birches, which gave moderate sap quantity, I was astounded by the flow of sap from birches. The other four trees often gave me a full bucket per day, sometimes more!
The sap flow is later than maple; I started in late March and continued well into April.
I even tried my hand at making birch candy from the syrup; again, some people loved it and others…. well…
My advice? Try birch syrup before tapping to make sure it’s for you!
Below left: Tapping White Birch; Below right: the result after much boiling! (one container of yellow birch syrup and two of white birch syrup)