Of the nearly 125 species of maple trees growing on Earth, thirteen species are found in North America, primarily in the northeastern United States and in southeastern Canada. Trees growing in these areas are tapped for the production of maple syrup. Maple trees found in the American southeastern, western and Rocky Mountain states as well as those found on the Pacific coasts of Canada and the United States are not commercially tapped. All maple leaves grow in pairs positioned opposite to one another along the tree's branches and have paired seeds or keys that look like wings. Other characteristics differ from one species to another allowing for each tree's definitive identification.
Take pictures of the tree you wish to identify. Include close-up shots of the bark and leaves and long shots of the trunk and canopy. Maple trees are easier to identify if you take pictures of the colourful autumn foliage. Compare your pictures to those in a field guide to trees or maple tree identification websites.
Pick a mature leaf and measure its length and width. The bigleaf maple has foot-wide leaves, while the leaves of the red maple average only six inches in width.
Count the number of lobes on the leaf. Sugar maples have only three to five lobes, and the vine maple can have seven to nine.
Compare your long shot pictures of your tree with those found in your Audubon Field Guide. Maple trees vary in size and shape according to variety.
Match the close-up pictures of the bark of your tree with the ones in your field guide. You will find that the bark of the black maple is deeply grooved and dark grey to black in colour. The bark of the silver maple is much lighter in colour and smoother in texture.
Compare your photos taken in autumn to the photos of maple trees sporting their fall colours in your reference materials. Silver maple leaves turn from a dark green surface with a silver underside to a combination of green, brown and yellow after the first frost. Red maples turn a fiery red in the fall.
The Audubon Field Guides to North American Trees--East and West--are available at most public libraries across the United States and Canada. The University of Connecticut online database of trees, shrubs and vines provides a wealth of information about the vegetation of North America.