The polar bear is a powerful symbol of the effects of climate change in the Arctic. Here in New England, our symbol may soon be the sugar maple tree. Tapped for syrup for centuries and famous for its fall foliage, the sugar maple is stressed to the point of decline and many scientists studying this beloved tree believe rising temperatures are the cause.
Maple syrup’s use as a food was first recorded in the early 1600s, when French writer Marc Lescarbot noted that Native American tribes “get juice from the trees and distill it down into a very sweet and agreeable liquid.” The syrup lore goes like this: A chief threw a tomahawk at a tree and noticed the rich syrup dripping from it. His wife cooked that evening’s venison in the sweet syrup, and the rest is history.
But what is a uniquely North American product is also an exceptionally picky one, dependent on a narrow and highly specialized climate of freezing nights and mild days. In the 1950s and 60s, eighty percent of the world’s maple syrup came from the U.S., 20 percent from Canada. Today it’s the opposite.
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