Why So Sappy?
By Sam Nunes, Environmental Educator
In March, the tree world starts to get a little sticky. Winter is coming to an end, nature is waking from its hibernation, and the first thought on the minds of animals and plants is, “I’m hungry!” Whenever people are asked what trees can provide for humans, one of the first answers to come up is sap, or syrup, which is made from tree sap. Where does this weird substance come from and why is it even there?
The story of this year’s sap starts during last year’s summer. In fact, the story actually starts from space! 93 million miles from us, the sun sends light speeding towards earth. After about 8 minutes, the light reaches the earth and that’s when the trees use the chlorophyll in their leaves to convert that energy into carbohydrates. This process is called photosynthesis. These carbs are used not only by the tree, but also by the fungi that live in a symbiotic relationship with the trees. In exchange for carbs, the fungi provide minerals to help trees grow tall and strong.
When autumn comes, trees take this energy and store it underground in their roots. Many plants store nutrients in their roots during this time of the year. When spring comes and the trees need a lot of energy to produce their new leaves, they depend upon sap, which they draw up from their roots in March, to give them one last burst into spring before they’re up and running on photosynthesis again.
Humans have learned to tap into this energy source too. After being collected from a tree, the sap is boiled until it becomes what we call syrup. This is a heavily viscous fluid with very high sugar content and excellent energy booster to add to our morning pancakes and waffles. So pour some sun energy on your breakfast!