I am writing a novel and hoping someone can tell me if it is possible for a Sugar or Rock Maple to grow in Northern California. The research I've done so far doesn't really indicate one way or the other. I'd like to know specifically whether or not a tree could take root and mature to the point that it would be very sizeable. I realize it may not produce a lot of sap, but I am hoping such a tree would produce the autumn colors, and that it wouldn't be altogether too rare. This is a detail I'd rather not take creative licence with. Thanks for any help.
sugar maple (Acer saccharum and perhaps A. nigrum) is a close relative of the Western broadleaf maple (A. macrophyllum), but they are not the same and the climate certainly is quite different. The broadleaf maple mostly turns yellow in fall color, whereas the Eastern species can turn orange-red as well, especially on sunny sites and with the right weather. Perhaps in the right niche it could grow....it would need moisture through the summer, but not sogginess....perhaps the border of a riparian zone where the roots could get to moisture but not be overwhelmed in it. Where it's native there is a good amount of rain most summers, which is lacking in the West.
i think its possible, but the trees would be unlikely to thrive. and i think it would only be possible at a higher elevation, where it is colder (northern cal can be a lot colder than people think). as far as i know sugar maples are very sensitive to heat and drought, which unfortunately is what our summers are like, so it would have to be irrigated. even irrigated our hot summers might do them in, this is a much hotter than anywhere they grow naturally.
as others said, we do have abundant amounts of the big leaf maples, which are really very prolific here and thrive without any human intervention. the big leaf maples are everywhere here, one of the most common trees around in the mountains.
i have never seen anyone plant a sugar maple anywhere out here, but i have seen some people plant the red maples for landscaping trees, although these are much less picky about temperature and water.
another note- people do tap the big leaf maples for syrup.
I've seen them for sale at the Arcata farmers market, but that doesn't mean much. As you probably know nor cal can be pretty diverse in growing regions. I have the plant it and see if it works mentality, so you can guess what I would do. I think you have a pretty good chance if you're on the coast (the weather is pretty mild in the Arcata-Trinidad area), but once you get to the inland heat you may experience more problems. Anyway, I've transplanted a number of volunteer japaneese maples I find under established tress with little difficulty. Perhaps you could get some seed or cheap to free sprouts to try with. I see a lot of people on here worried about doing things the right way with permaculture but that seems to take some of the fun and experimentation out of it. I'd say if you can do it cheap why not try. -Just my 2 cents