Maple is perhaps the most iconic species of tree in the forests of the northern United States and Canada. It’s honey-blonde wood and light grain make it extremely sought after–and valuable. But how much, exactly, are maple trees worth? While a multitude of factors influence the numbers significantly, a mature maple tree can fetch prices of $100-$200 as standing timber and produce logs that range in value from $200-$400 or more. Below is a chart of the hypothetical potential values of maple trees in stumpage, logs, and lumber, categorized by tree size.
In this article, we will discuss these three forms of value, the factors that influence value, and how you can estimate the value of your maple trees.
The Three Prices of Maple
When discussing how much maple trees are worth (or any tree for that matter), it is crucial to understand exactly what is meant by “value.” There are several points in the wood value chain, from standing timber to cut lumber, and each gives the tree an enhanced value. Thus, we can break the value of a tree into three distinct groups of value. They are stumpage value, log value, and lumber value.
Maple Stumpage Value
Stumpage is the amount a landowner receives from a logger for the right to harvest standing timber. In other words, if a logger wanted to cut down and sell trees on another’s property, that logger would pay the landowner stumpage for the right to do so. A standing tree is going to be the lowest point on the value chain, and so stumpage value is the lowest of the three values. Nonetheless, because it does not include the variables of other processes, it is stumpage that can most fairly be described as the true value of a tree.
So what is the stumpage value of maple trees, exactly? It is not an easy answer. Stumpage is sold on a closed market, and very often it is done through a sealed bid. There simply is no standard value, and that is because of the myriad of factors that can influence it, which you can read more about in our article here. However, maple has a typical value of $300-$600/MBF
Many states do keep track of individual transactions and publish reports on typical stumpage values for the area. We have a list of resources here by state and province.
Maple Log Value
Next on the value chain is log value. Log value is the price paid by sawmills for cut logs delivered to the mill. Because the cost of logging and trucking is included in this price, it is a substantially higher price than stumpage, usually around double.
Much like stumpage, there is no set value for maple logs. Prices are set by individual mills and greatly depend on local markets, the mill’s margin and business model, and the relationship the mill has with the landowner. Moreover, each individual log will be graded differently based on product class and quality, so each log will be categorized into a different tier of rate. That said, common maple log prices range from $600-$1,000/MBF
To know maple log prices for your area, contact your local sawmills and ask what the going rate is.
Maple Lumber Value
Finally, maple lumber is the most refined state of the wood value chain and thus the most valuable state of a lumber tree. In a way, this number can describe the potential value of a maple tree after manufacturing.
Milling lumber is of course an expensive process, requiring the cutting of the lumber, as well as drying, planing, and then retailing the lumber. Retailing lumber itself can be quite expensive, which is why most larger mills are intermediated, creating a further division between wholesale and retail lumber prices.
Despite the variability, typical maple lumber retail prices range from $7,000-$10,000/MBF.
Finding the Board Foot Volume of a Maple Tree
As you may have noted, all prices thus far have been denominated in “MBF” or thousand board feet. This is a measurement of potential lumber yield in a tree or log. To learn more about this measurement, we have an article on the subject here.
Because prices are in units of lumber yield, it is crucial to determine the board foot volume of maple trees to determine how much they are worth. Luckily, we have what are known as “log rules” to help us estimate. Log rules are basically formulas used to calculate the likely yield of a log based on an assumption of taper and kerf. One of the most popular log rules is the International 1/4 inch rule, which is visualized in the table below.
You can use this table to estimate the board foot volume of a tree based on diameter or “DBH” and the number of usable logs in a tree. Particularly for the latter variable, it can be a nuanced process to determine the merchantability of logs within a tree, but we have an article on the subject that goes into detail on how to do it.
Once you determine how many board feet are in the tree, simply divide that number by 1000 and multiply by the price (whichever you use) per MBF. That should give you the rough value of the tree.
Value Depends on Quality
As with most hardwoods, how much maple trees are worth are largely a function of the quality of the tree. Maple wood is known for its honey color and beautiful grain, and so it is used for a wide variety of cosmetic surfaces. Because it is usually a cosmetic wood, maple trees that are straight and free of defects that could create unsightly features in the grain are going to be valued most highly. Take, for example, these two trees below:
The tree on the left is full of branches most of the way down. These branches are going to create bad knots throughout most of the logs. On the right, the stem is straight and clear. Boards made from the maple on the right will be much higher quality.
To account for the difference in wood quality, sawmills usually have systems of tiered rates to pay on the basis of the log’s grade. Veneer is universally the highest grade of log and can fetch prices into the thousands per MBF. After that, sawlogs are usually graded on a system of 1-3 with 3 being the worst.
When maple trees are of overly-poor quality, they are unsuitable for use as sawtimber, and they become pulpwood. Pulpwood is one of the lowest-grade products in the forest industry, often selling for mere dollars per ton. The difference in stumpage value between sawtimber and pulpwood can be more than 100x, which is why it is so crucial to manage your forest for growing quality hardwood logs.
What Type of Defects Reduce the Value of Maple?
There are several defects that can dramatically alter the value of maple trees. In no particular order, they are:
- Branches and knots
- Cracks, scars, and wounds
- Large heartwood
All of these defects can range in severity, but they will all usually lower the value of the stem. Some defects, like rot, can not only dramatically lower the value, but also destroy the wood of the tree itself, producing a huge loss.
Other defects, like large heartwood, are usually not detrimental to the value, but do lower it slightly. In some species like Black walnut and yellow birch, the heartwood is actually the most valuable part of the tree–not so with maple.
Specialty Patterned Maple
There are also special “figured” logs that can dramatically affect how much maple trees are worth. These figures produce anomalies in the grain of the wood that are considered highly desirable for applications where unique cosmetics can add to the value of a piece, such as in woodworking or furniture manufacturing. This “figured” maple usually falls into two categories: Birdseye and curly maple.
Birdseye maple describes a type of anomaly in the grain of maple that produces attractive flecks. Rather than being an entirely separate species, this is a figure found only in select sugar maple trees. There is no consensus on what, exactly, causes birdseye maple to form, but it is likely due to stressful environments the tree grows in.
Like all other values, the value of maple trees with this figure differ dramatically, depending on the amount of flecks in the grain as well as all other aforementioned factors. That said, birdseye maple lumber can fetch $17,000/MBF!
Similar to birsdeye, curly maple refers not to a species of maple, but to a particular figure in its grain that gives it a brilliant, almost iridescent, wavy look. It can go by other names, including flame maple and quilted maple, depending on the exact pattern and different vernacular, but it generally refers to the same anomaly. Curly maple can be found in sugar maple or red maple, but it is most prominent in red maple.
Because it is more common than birdseye and is usually found in a less attractive species, curly maple lumber generally sells for around $10 per board foot, with much variability.
Worth its Weight in Maple Syrup
Of course, Maple trees are unique in that their commercial uses extend past just wood. Maple is famed for the delicious, sugary syrup made from its sap that adorns pancakes and waffles around the world. So to a maple sugaring operation, the question of how much maple trees are worth depends entirely upon their sap production. A single maple tree can produce 10-20 gallons of sap a year, but it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup.
So how does one value the sap production of a single tree? We’d have to do a bit of fancy cash flow analysis, but making a few basic assumptions, we can say that a single tree’s sap production has a net present value of around $40.
Which Maple Species Are Worth the Most Money?
Unlike Oak, which has several species that can be quite valuable, or spruce, where the species are essentially interchangeable, in the world of maple, sugar maple (also called hard maple) stands alone as the most valuable by a large margin. Red maple (soft maple) comes in as a distant second, as there is use for its wood in lower-grade products, but it is not often used for high-grade products, unless it produces curly maple. Other species of maple, such as silver maple and Norway maple, are usually just used as pulpwood, fetching a much lower price. As such, the discussion around the value of maple trees focuses on sugar maple.
How Much Is an Acre of Maple Worth?
Now that we have a decent understanding of the fundamentals for how much a maple tree is worth, what is an entire acre of maple worth? As with all other questions of value, the answer is variable, but we have fairly accurate means of assessing this. Below is a table of typical MBF/acre stocking levels:
The left axis represents the amount of basal area per acre. To learn more about basal area, what it represents, and how to measure it, we have an article and video on the subject here. Moreover, we have an article about how to better use this chart here.
Typically, however, an average-stocked stand of mature maple might have 70 square feet of basal area and 1.5 logs per tree (on average). At this level, an acre of maple would have 7.3 MBF/acre and a stumpage value of $2,200-$4,400 per acre! In 100 acres of such a stand, the trees may be worth around $400,000. Not too shabby!
Of course, the true number is going depend on a myriad of factors, especially how much (quality) wood you actually have on your acreage. More information on how much wood is on an acre can be found here.
How to Sell Maple Trees
If you have maple trees on your property, and you are interested in selling them, you must of course determine what it is you are actually selling. Do you wish to sell the rights to harvest the timber, or do you wish to sell individual logs? The difference between the two is large.
If you wish to sell the rights to harvest your maple trees, you must have a larger parcel of timberland. No logger is going to come to harvest a few trees on your front lawn and give you money for them. The investment in such a process is simply not worth it. Instead, they need at least 10 acres (bare minimum) to make it worth their while, and the more, the better.
If that applies to you, the best course of action is to work with a forester who can work with loggers on your behalf and ensure not only that you get the best money for your timber, but that your property is protected and remains productive for years to come.
If you wish to sell maple logs, however, then the opposite is true. Unless you are specially equipped and understand basic harvesting principles, this is likely too complicated a process to do on a large acreage. On the other hand, if you have taken down or plan to take down a single tree on your yard and wish to sell a log from it, this is more doable. The best course of action in such a case is to post an ad in an online market place like Craigslist or Facebook and let people know you are selling it. There are many people around with small, portable sawmills who are more than willing to compensate you for them.
Maple is one of the most valuable hardwoods in the northeast, but it is only quality sugar maple that is truly valuable. Red maple and individuals of poor quality simply do not produce much value. This is why managing for quality is so important when growing hardwoods in your forest. It isn’t enough to cut a lot of wood. You must cut quality wood to make money. Moreover, the question of how much maple trees is worth can be extremely nuanced.
If you want to learn more about proper management for quality hardwoods to ensure the best future values of your wood, familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of hardwood silviculture and work with a forester who can help you determine a management plan for your property. Forestry is a complicated science, and business, but understanding it and acting on it pays great dividends.