NZ Maple Syrup Mission Taps Into Hi-tech Imaging

Credit: Original article can be found here

Magnified 3D images of the inside of a maple tree could
take Kiwi scientists a step closer to making home-grown
maple syrup.

A Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha |
University of Canterbury (UC) team has spent the last two
years investigating whether it’s viable to produce maple
at scale within Aotearoa New Zealand, and trial
plantations have been established near Hanmer Springs and

In the latest stage of this project, Dr
Jamie Robinson, a postdoctoral fellow in the UC Department
of Chemical and Process Engineering (CAPE), is using
cutting-edge imaging techniques to study cells and
structures inside the stems of a sugar maple tree. His aim
is to understand the mechanisms that lead maple trees to
produce high volumes of sugar-rich sap.

Dr Robinson
recently returned from his second trip to Melbourne to visit
the Australian Synchrotron, a massive research facility with
a suite of x-ray machines that can produce high resolution
3D images of the internal features of living maple tree

“I use different imaging techniques, both
invasive and non-invasive, to study the internal features of
sugar maple at high resolution,” Dr Robinson says. “The
goal of this work is to find out how maple trees produce
large amounts of sugar rich sap, which is processed to
create maple syrup.

“Our aim is to get a better
understanding of how maple sap is generated, and eventually
to improve the ability to predict yields. If our research
group is successful this will open the opportunity for
production of a high value product, maple syrup, in New
Zealand, and allow people to buy locally produced

Dr Robinson’s findings so far have been
published in the journal Micron,
and he plans to return to the synchrotron in August and get
images of living saplings while they are being slowly frozen
and then thawed, to find out how winter temperatures affect
pressure inside the stems. The process is non-invasive and
doesn’t damage the trees.

Canada’s freezing
winters play an important role in maple syrup production by
getting sap flowing in large, mature maple trees. Holes are
drilled into the trees during winter and natural pressures
cause the sap to flow into tubes for

Despite our relatively mild winters, CAPE
Matt Watson
, who is leading the research project,
believes producing maple syrup in New Zealand has commercial
potential. His team is exploring whether densely planted
trees – about 10,000 per hectare can produce enough
sap in moderately cold temperatures to make large-scale
production worthwhile. The research has Ministry of
Business, Innovation and Employment Smart Ideas funding
until the end of next year.

“We’ve planted our
first maple saplings near Hanmer Springs and have coppice
pruned some of them to keep them small,” says Professor
Watson, who is Director of UC’s Biomolecular Interaction
Centre. “We’re planning a third trial plantation site
where we can plant red maple and paper birch trees, which
also produce sap.”

UC CAPE PhD student Matt Rennie
is monitoring sap flow and local weather conditions, and
there are plans to extract a small quantity of sap from the
Hanmer sugar maple trees either this winter or

While commercial production is a long way off,
it is projected that 2000 hectares of maple trees could
generate $60 million a year in maple syrup revenue. By
absorbing carbon dioxide, the trees would also benefit the

© Scoop Media