What species is bigleaf maple?
Bigleaf maple is Acer macrophyllum and it is native to the North American west coast, from northern California to British Columbia, and primarily west of the Cascade Mountains. For biological-ecological information, see the the USDA Plants Database. Additional information can be found in publications and websites under the Hobby & Commercial tabs of this website.
Can you harm bigleaf maples by tapping them?
Anytime you drill a hole in a tree you are creating a wound and the tree will begin a healing process just like other living organisms. We haven't found research studies, or heard from practitioners, that tapping bigleaf leads to tree mortality or increases the potential for mortality. A recent study by van den berg et al. published in the June 2021 issue of Maple Digest advises against retapping the same hole to rejuvenate sap flow that has tapered off. Thus, it is probably safer for the health of the tree to tap a new hole than to expand existing holes.
When a bigleaf is cut off at the base for firewood or lumber it sends up new shoots. Bigleaf is a tenacious tree that is difficult to eradicate for those that try to do so.
What do I need to get started tapping bigleaf maple?
Visit the "Hobby" and "Commercial" sections of this website for training and supplier resources. Most equipment suppliers offer low-cost starter kits for eastern sugar maple, but those kits work for bigleaf maple also. Before you buy, search the Internet for Maple Tapping Kit and check out some of the different type kits and descriptions to see if one feels right for you.
How much bigleaf sap does it take to make syrup?
The sap to syrup ratio is roughly 60-80 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. If that sounds like a lot of sap to make a small amount of syrup you are right, it is. Bigleaf sap has less sugar content coming out of the tree than sugar maples, but sugar maples also take a lot of sap to make syrup, 40-60 gallons. The amount of sap needed is a part of what makes maple syrup and other maple products extra special, i.e., the effort it takes to create a memorable, unique food. Other tree syrups from species like birch and walnut take even more effort because of their low sugar content and generally lower yields of sap. Though sugar maple may produce more sap, and the terrain can be less brushy to work in (though colder), there is a huge abundance of bigleaf (without hardly any active management to increase their population), and the trees can be much larger than sugar maple.
Can you make money tapping bigleaf for food products?
Bigleaf maple tapping is mostly done by hobbyists but there is a small (but growing) contingent of commercial producers. As consumer awareness and demand for bigleaf leaf syrup and other products grows, so will opportunities for sap collectors and processors. It takes a lot of sap to produce a product like maple sap, so commercial opportunities favor producers with access to large numbers of trees. There is an equipment cost as well. It's possible to collect quite a lot of sap with simple setups like tapped trees going into buckets and then evaporating small batches over a wood fire or propane stove. However, other than hobby or very small commercial production, vacuum pumps, reverse osmosis machines, and other equipment needed to produce syrup for market can get expensive. Our suggestion is to start small and get a feel for how everything works. It won't take long for you to start seeing what the economic potential is for your particular situation.
I tapped a tree, why isn't my sap flowing?
Although the science of bigleaf maple sap flow is limited, based on conversations with tappers and scholars below are just a few of the variables we all can be trying to observe to see how they impact sap flow:
The ground has low moisture content because of a change in soil moisture conditions;
No or limited freezing temperatures to draw up moisture into the tree from the roots/ground;
Trees are internally frozen or too cold (even when external temperatures are above freezing), thus negative pressure is preventing the release of sap to a tap (see Perkins et al. 2001 Maple News Pg. 6 for a detailed discussion);
The tree vigor has declined and/or the tree is dying.