Most people can recognize a maple leaf when they see one, but sorting out the different maple species can prove tricky. In New England, there are several native maples, as well as a few introduced species and commonly planted cultivars.
The first maple that comes to mind for most New Englanders is probably the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), familiar for its sap-derived sweetener. If you've never tapped a maple, you might consider giving it a try next winter. Reducing the sap to syrup is not required as the slightly sweet water is delicious simply consumed fresh out of a tree.
The bark of a particular species can vary widely, often changing dramatically with age. The bark of middle-aged Sugar Maples usually develops large vertical grooves and can take on a shaggy appearance. The Plainville Cemetery has many large examples, allowing one to witness the variability and overall commonalities of Sugar Maple bark in person.
In my next Meet the Maples post, I'll discuss some ways that Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) differs.