Do you want the elusive red in your garden? Forget the Japanese maple and plant our native red maple!
Red maples are beautiful and present something red in every season. In spring, red flowers and two-winged samaras (that are initially reddish), in summer, reddish stems and twigs and red buds, and in the fall, excellent orange-red foliage color (but sometimes yellow to greenish-yellow color).
Acer rubrum is a large shade tree with an irregularly rounded or oval crown. Young red maples have smooth, light gray bark. Bark on older trees is often broken into plates. Medium to dark green, coarsely-toothed leaves generally have three major lobes, sometimes with two additional smaller lobes near the base of the leaf, with lobes separated by V-shaped angles. The underside of the leaves are glaucous and appear silvery. Considered “soft” wood, A. rubrum trees are sturdy and long-lived.
Red maple flowers appear before the leaves appear. Trees can produce all female flowers, all male flowers, or some of both. Fluffy male flowers have long stamens that extend beyond the petal and are covered in yellow pollen at the tips; the stigma extends past the petals in female flowers (pictured). Female flowers produce double samaras (a one-seeded winged fruit) in late spring. These samaras disperse in spring before the leaves are fully developed (as opposed to sugar maple samaras which hang on until the fall).
It is easy to confuse red maple with sugar maple. To distinguish them, look at the teeth on the leaf edges. Red maple leaves are saw-toothed, while the lobes on sugar maples have smoother edges.
Per the Arbor Day Foundation, the red maple has the greatest north–south range of any tree species living entirely in the eastern forests (Newfoundland to southern Florida).
Very tolerant of most soils (has a slight drought tolerance) but prefers slightly moist conditions.
This tree grows at a medium to fast rate, with height increases of anywhere from 13″ to more than 24″ per year.
Special value to native bees and honey bees. Larval host to many, including the rosy maple moth and the Cecropia moth. Attracts birds.
Height: 40-70 ft.
Spread: 20-50 ft.
Bloom time: March to April
Sun: full sun to part shade
Water: medium to wet
According to Rutgers University, Acer rubrum is “seldom severely damaged” by deer.
photo credit: Wendy Cutler