What Is a Red Maple?

Anna Harrison
Anna Harrison
Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

The red maple, or Acer rubrum, is a large, deciduous tree that grows throughout Canada and the United States, where it is the state tree of Rhode Island. It is a fast-growing tree that is highly adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions. In the fall, the leaves of this soft maple turn a variety of bright red or deep orange colors, which make it a frequent sight in both public landscapes and large yards. Popular cultivars include October Glory, Red Sunset, and Autumn Flame.

This tree is not for small areas, as it can reach as much as 60 feet (18 m) tall. It’s beautiful, three-lobed leaves are usually 3 to 4 inches (91 to 123 cm) long and have serrated edges. For most of the year, they are light green in color with white undersides. In fall, however, they turn many different shades, including scarlet, crimson, and pumpkin orange. The red maple is one of the first to turn color, and keeps it’s leaves for quite a long time, not losing them until the weather becomes much colder.

Red maples are self-pollinating and produce tiny clusters of red or green flowers in early spring, followed by odd-looking seed pods called samaras. Two round pods are joined together with small wings underneath. This gives them a helicopter-like appearance as they propel to the ground. They can make quite a mess as they fall in large amounts. Many of them will germinate the following spring to create countless small seedlings.

These ornamental trees are much faster growing than sugar or Norway maples, and are quite hardy. In northern areas, they prefer wetter surroundings and will even live in swamp or boggy conditions. They are happiest in these types of locations and can survive the coldest of winters. Red maple trees will also grow in hot southern climates, where they tend to prefer drier areas. These types of trees will grow in full sun or partial shade and are not fussy about soil types.

Red maple trees produce sap that can be used to make maple syrup, though it is said to be of a lower quality than that of other maples. The wood from these trees is often used to make furniture. It is also used to make several different types of musical instruments.

The red maple is prone to damage from both disease and insect pests. In particular, the Asian long-horned beetle has become a significant threat throughout the United States and Canada where it has devastated thousands of these trees. There are also several different types of fungi that can seriously damage or even kill red maple trees as well.

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