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Monday, March 25, 2013

Do maple trees near cemeteries have sap that tastes like corpses?

At least one person is upset (some people get upset at anything) about a couple of maple trees being tapped in a cemetery in the town of Epping. The Union-Leader - which, like all papers, has fewer reporters these days and needs to overplay pseudo-controversies to fill space, just as poorly staffed local TV stations have done for years - has a story which you can read here.

It's a non-story except for an interesting question that came my way from a Telegraph editor, who asked if there was any way to tell what effect it might have on maple sap if roots are intertwined with rotting corpses. My first reaction was to scoff - it's not like tree near swamps make syrup that tastes like fetid water, for example - but then I thought I'd try to develop a real back-of-envelope answer.

Alas, I am stumped. (Hey - that's a tree pun!) I can't find any information anywhere on the effect that local environment has on syrup flavor, although there's lots about the effect of weather on syrup runs. I'm also stumped at estimating how much of the nutrients/water taken up by tree roots in a cemetery comes from corpses, as compared to the other 99.99% of the soil.

So I think I'll stick to scoffing.