Sap runs occur in March and April. Through photosynthesis, the tree fixes carbon dioxide. It is then immediately assimilated and used for the synthesis of starch (a storage metabolite), for respiration, or for the synthesis of sucrose and other carbon compounds. The starch accumulated over the summer is stored in the tree’s roots. In spring, when the required enzymes become active again, the starch is converted into sucrose. Maple sap contains 2% to 3% sugar on average (a small amount of glucose is present with the sucrose). This “sweet water” contains all of the ingredients the tree needs to resume vegetative growth in the spring. It contains inorganic salts, peptides, amino acids, amylase, and certain growth regulators.
The sap run phenomenon is highly dependent on air temperature. Freezing conditions at night alternating with higher temperatures during the day are essential. There are two phases in the sap run: an absorption phase during cold nights (-5oC or below) and an exudation phase when the temperature rises. It is believed that the sap is drawn up to the crown of the tree when the branches most exposed to the cold freeze. When the temperature rises above the freezing point (to approximately 5oC), the sap thaws and flows down towards the base of the tree under the effect of gravity.
In summary, during the thaw, in the spring, the maple tree transforms starch into sugar. The sugar mixes with the water absorbed by the roots of the maple tree and slightly sweetens its sap. This is called maple water, which will later be transformed into maple syrup.
Tree sap circulates like that for about six to eight weeks from the beginning of March. It provides the tree with the energy it needs to grow. As the spring harvest of maple water takes only about 5% of its sugar reserves, the tree will keep everything it needs to stay healthy.