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EYE ON EDUCATION: Sweet lessons

Lake Placid students team with Cornell Maple to cultivate extra-sweet trees

October 27, 2017
By ANTONIO OLIVERO - Staff Writer , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Lake Placid students and the Cornell Uihlein Maple Forest joined forces earlier this autumn to collect important data that will have an effect on the future of a sweet-and-special parcel of land near the corner of Old Military Road and Old John Brown Road.

It's here on these 10 acres next to the Lake Placid Community Garden and an iconic chimney-like sculpture where Cornell uses an orchard to grow sugar maples with sweeter sap than the rest of their farm.

The area is actually a plantation of widely spaced trees that were planted at the same time about 20 years ago in the mid 1990s. It's here Cornell is focused on growing a seed source for higher sugar content sugar maples. Some of the trees have as much as twice the sugar content of a typical Cornell sugar maple on the Bear Cub Lane property.

Article Photos

These are the maple trees at the corner of Old Military Road and the Old John Brown Road in Lake Placid.
(News photo — Antonio Olivero)

"It enables us to get more sugar out of a forest of the same size," said Joe Orefice, the director of the Cornell Uihlein Maple Forest. "It's kind of like growing a better tomato. We are improving the plant."

Several dozen Lake Placid Middle School eighth graders teamed up with Orefice after teacher Tammy Morgan reached out to the Cornell Uihlein Maple Forest with the hope of having students involved in a reality-based project where data would be collected through math, algebra and science equations in the field.

Morgan and the students accomplished this via a lab focused on learning about the kind of selective breeding for desired traits that is being undertaken at the Cornell Uihlein Maple Forest. The lab tasked the students with collecting data about the health of the trees to determine which ones have the most desirable traits and will be kept and which ones should be removed from the plot.

So students focused on certain elements of the trees, such as the crown, or the branches and leaves of a tree, the tree's diameter and the tree's diameter at breast height, about four-and-a-half feet above the ground. Each group was given a plot of about 20 trees, some standing as high as 30 feet tall.

As part of the lab, students reacted to some trees that were multi-trunked, thus requiring more work. Once their measurements were complete, the core of the lesson was to use the law of similar triangles to calculate the exact height of the tree.

"And the height," Orefice said. "The height. We want to know how much sugar is in the trees but we also want to know how much they grow, because a tree that doesn't grow well, it doesn't matter how much sugar is produced if they don't grow well.

"We need a tree to do two things," he added, "grow healthy and fast and be high in sugar content."

Orefice said final conclusions from the students' work will be drawn this spring when Lake Placid High School senior and the Environmental Club President Tim Kelleher will help Orefice tap the trees and measure the sugar content as part of his senior project. And syrup from the sap collected by the Environmental Club will then be sold in the school cafeteria.

"I was really impressed at how focused they were," Orefice said of the students. "They cared about the project, they really were focused and doing the work and interested in it, asking questions and being articulate. They were knowledgable students. They cared and that was really cool to see."



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