It was common in the ’70s and ’80s to hear Canadians self deprecatingly speak of our national symbols as 2nd rate. A maple leaf was somehow less than an oak leaf . A beaver was a lesser beast than an eagle. The beaver isn’t a second rate symbol but I won’t bother proving that here. Instead I’ll focus on the maple tree versus the oak tree as a powerful symbol.
First when looking at the leaves of both trees, neither seems superior, just different.
One of those self deprecating looks I mentioned was Rush’s anti union song, The Trees. One line sets up the song: “The maples want more sunlight and the oaks ignore their pleas.” Presumably oaks are taller than maples and thus ‘win’ the struggle for more sunlight.
This may be true with the ornamental maples that some landscapers put on lawns. But maples have a robust branch on the evolutionary tree, and ornamental maples aren’t all there is. Have you ever seen a bush of sugar maples where the sap gets harvested? These bushes are as high as other bushes. In other words, maples can get to be as tall as oaks.
That’s right, the basic premise that Rush hung The Trees on, I feel is wrong. Perhaps the anti union stance is incorrect, too.
It’s also implicit in my previous argument that maples may be more robust and fill more niches than oaks in the world’s ecology.
Then there is the wood of each tree. Both are hardwoods. Some may prefer the oak, but the maple woods are less expensive. I call that a draw.
Oaks produce acorns as their other product. It is possible to eat this nut, however it’s best to put the nuts through a process first. Squirrels that eat this nut have evolved to eat it, unlike humans.
Sugar maples produce the finest tasting maple syrup and sugars. So much so that their high price doesn’t deter people from pouring it onto pancakes and the like. The process for creating the syrup from the sap of the sugar maple is just to boil away the excess water.
Maple trees also produce those ‘helicopter’ seeds that fall slowly to the ground, tracing out helixes. This allows the seeds to blow away from the tree parent. The maple seed can fall far from the maple. Plus they are wicked fun to play with when a little kid.
And lastly, maples seem to thrive in more northerly latitudes than oaks. That’s a great reason for choosing them as a national symbol for Canada. All in all I think maples are a better symbol than oaks would be because of this direct comparison. Those other, self deprecating Canadians? I think they just didn’t think things through.