College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University Biology Department (Collegeville, MN 56321)

Saint John's Maple Syrup - website

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Natural History of Maple Syrup

Biology 373 (Special Topics in Biology)


Instructor:      Stephen G. Saupe, Ph.D. (call me Steve, Dr. Saupe, or whatever feels most  comfortable to you)
Office PENGL 335
Phone:   (320) 363-2782
Office Hours:     available on-line
email Address:
Home Page:


Course Description:  A springtime ritual throughout the NE United States is the production of maple syrup from the sap of the sugar maple tree.  Since 1942, the monks of St. John's and their friends, have produced syrup.  This course provides an introduction to the history of the maple syrup making and the methods used to produce syrup, with a special emphasis on St. John's.  In addition, we will discuss the biological and chemical principles underlying the production of sap and syrup. Pre-requisites:  two courses in biology (i.e., Biol121, 221)


Course Objectives The primary goal of this course is to provide students with an understanding of the process of making maple syrup.  Upon completion of this course the student will be able to: 

1.       describe the history of maple syrup production

2.       identify common trees, including sugar maple, by bark, buds and winter characteristics

3.       use a dichotomous key to identify trees in the winter

4.       describe the mechanism of sap flow in maple trees and explain how it differs from normal methods of water transport in plants

5.       describe the chemistry of maple sap and syrup

6.       describe techniques used to produce syrup from the sap of the maple tree

7.       explain the specific methods of syrup production at St. John’s


Class Time/Place This class meets odd days (1-3-5) during C Mod (Mar 10 – Apr 1) from 4:20 – 5:30 PM in PENGL 325.  You are expected to participate in "Tapping Day" (Saturday, Mar 14) and one "Festival Day" (Mar 28 or April 4).


Text Koelling, MR, RB Heiligmann, TD Perkins (2006) North American Maple Syrup Producers Manual.  Second edition.  Bulletin 856.  Produced by Ohio State University Extension in cooperation with the North American Maple Syrup Council.  Available at the St. John’s Bookstore.


Course Syllabus/Schedule







Mar 10 (T)

Welcome; Brief history of maple syruping; Overview of maple syrup production at St. John's

Ch 1 & 2; PPT in Moodle

12 (Th)

Maple trees:  biology, management, winter tree ID

Ch 3 & 5

14 (S) Tapping Day  

16 (M)

Biology of maple sap flow & plant water transport

pp 81-83; Biology of maple sap flow (lab for Biol327)


18 (W)

Sap & Syrup Production

Ch 6, 7, 8

20 (F)

Tour - St. John's Maple Syrup Operation

Ch 12

24 (T)

Tour of Wildwood Ranch Maple Syrup Operation - by Tom & Shelly Carlson



26 (Th)

Chemistry of maple sap and syrup; Maple Products

Appendix 2; Ch 9

28 (S) Saint John's Maple Syrup Festival #1  

30 (M)



Apr 1 (W)




Apr 4 (S)

Saint John's Maple Syrup Festival #2


 (note: two class periods were left free to compensate for time at the sugar bush)


Evaluation Grades will be determined on the basis of your performance on:

  1. Exam/quizzes:   There will be a series of quizzes/exams to be completed.

  2. Attendance:  Students are expected to attend all scheduled sessions.  Each unexcused absence will lower your grade by one letter.

  3. Festival Presentation/Project:  Students will be required to lead an educational tour during one of the Saint John's Maple Syrup Festivals or other educational class/tour sponsored by the St. John's Arboretum.  You will develop a brief  presentation about one of the following:  How to tap a tree (including various methods); How the Saint John's evaporator works; How to determine the sugar concentration of sap and the Rule of 86; Why maple trees produce sap in the springtime and the conditions that favor sap flow;  How to recognize maple and other trees in the winter; History of maple syrup making.  Before giving the presentation in public, you will do a test run with me (or other syrup-maker). 

Grades will be assigned based upon the percentage of total points accumulated according to the following scale: 100 - 90% = A; 89 - 87% = AB; 86 - 80% = B; 79 - 77% = BC; 76 - 70% = C;  69- 67% = CD; 66 - 60% = D; below 59% = F.  Attendance is mandatory; one unexcused absence will lower your grade by a letter.



References/Resources (the public folder for our course contains assorted other articles)

State Maple Syrup Organizations:

Other Resources:

Other Maple Courses:




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Last updated:  03/29/2009     � Copyright  by SG Saupe