Growing up in the Midwest, I found the sugar maple, Acer saccharum, to be one of my favorite native trees. I recall them being tolerant of the understory shade but eventually becoming the dominant tree with huge, massive limbs. Their size suits them in native forests as well as in parks and boulevard plantings, but they are generally too large for use as street trees.
However, two sugar maple selections that are now available are a much better fit for confined urban spaces: Acer saccharum ‘Sugar Cone’ and Apollo® sugar maple, Acer saccharum ‘Barrett Cole’.
They are both narrow, miniature versions of the species. Sugar Cone maple is said to have a mature height of 25 feet and spread of about 13 feet. Apollo® will be a little taller at 30 feet tall and maybe narrower at about 10 feet wide. Both trees are perfect sizes for most street tree locations.
Typical of the sugar maple species, their bark is light brown and slightly rough in youth. The leaves on both cultivars exhibit the well-known and generally recognized maple leaf shape (as seen on the Canadian flag). They appear to be a little darker green in the summer than those of the straight species, finishing the season with the typical outstanding red-tipped lobes on golden yellow leaves into the fall. Their leaves will drop relatively early, which some people like.
It appears they have shallow wide-spreading roots in wet or limited depth soils, but develop much deeper and broader spreading roots in well-drained soils. Industry information states they prefer moist soils, but in my own experience with sugar maples, they are not overly tolerant of wet soils. I cannot say they are drought tolerant either but I suspect their performance has to do more with the soils they are growing in, the competition around them and according to literature, the progeny of the parent tree.
In our experience, they are relatively tolerant of transplanting but rooting does not appear to be quite as prolific as the red maple family. Maintaining a central leader is a challenge with these cultivars and their branch structure does not appear to be as predictable or agreeable as the general species, so be wary of that challenge during selection, acceptance and maintenance. They can look a bit sparsely branched in their winter form but fill out very nicely in full leaf during the summer.
I am recognizing these two cultivars for their limited width and height, but there are other larger, full-crowned sugar maple cultivars that may be more appropriate for larger urban planting strips. I suggest that you not limit your consideration to these narrow forms of sugar maples if you have the room for a maple of greater stature.
As always, I would appreciate hearing your experiences with these and other trees.