Red Maple Trees are a common sight in Pennsylvania for several good reasons. They are amongst the first to repopulate land that has been cleared. These maples then act as a nursery tree because they give way to slower growing, larger species over time. Our state is no stranger to successive rounds of deforestation. And so the ubiquitous Red Maple Trees has helped us regain a diversified tree canopy of many other tree species.
This iconic tree is native to the Northeastern States of America. It is also increasingly used as a landscape or shade tree due to its vibrant red foliage in fall and its fast growth. This page shows several amazing examples: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Acer_rubrum
Common Name/ Regular Name:
Red Maple Tree
Water Maple, Swamp Maple, Soft Maple
Physical Description of Red Maple Trees:
– Growth Rate
Speed of growth is accepted as fast – between 1 and 2 feet each year. They can provide a lot of shade in your yard relatively quickly.
– Mature Tree Size
After 25 years of rapid growth, these maples commonly reach 60 feet in height and 40 feet in width. Bear this in mind when planting near buildings.
In ideal conditions and light, they can continue to grow to double that size i.e. 120 feet. The tallest known example of the species can be found near Armada in Michigan with a height of 125 feet.
The candle that burns twice as bright lasts half as long. Red maple trees are the same. Their fast-growing, fast-living, flamboyant nature comes with a short lifespan of around 100 years. This is low by tree standards.
Their simple leaves are highly recognizable, each with 3 to 5 lobes and toothed edges. Leaves are dark green with a red tinge after budding. In fall, leaf color changes to orange and deep reds. Even yellow colors can be seen with different cultivars. Interestingly, the deeper reds in fall occur at more northerly latitudes for this tree even though it can grow as far south as Florida.
Bark of young reds is mostly smooth and gray in color. As the tree matures, its bark darkens and becomes more fractured.
– Flowers, Fruit
When a red maple reaches 4 to 8 years of age, it begins to bloom with small, reddish-colored flowers in springtime. The fruits of the red maple fruits are known as samara. These harden and develop into seeds of the same shape.
– Seeds or Cones
A red maple tree can develop multiple thousands of seeds each year, sometimes up to a million in fact. They are small by maple standards and winged. They will flutter down in large numbers in an autumn breeze.
The close up photo shows a pair of developing red maple seeds called samaras taken in early summer.
The Red Maple loves full sun and moist, loamy, and slightly acidic soils. These conditions exist throughout the east of the United States giving it one of the greatest geographic range of any tree (from Maine in the north to Florida in the tip of Florida in the south).
Red maple trees are perhaps the most abundant tree in the eastern deciduous forest. The tree tolerates a range of habitats including occasional and temporary drought. Being suited to a wide range of growing environments, elevations and latitudes comes in part to its highly adaptable root system. It changes the length of its main tap root and lateral roots according to the ambient level of moisture in the soil.
This tall tree has a canopy that is relatively low to the ground. so avoid planting it where people and property will not be troubled by low branches and leaf cover.
Uses and Importance
Commercially, some of the larger red maple trees can be used for making furniture and flooring in solid or veneer form. However, if your wife wears stiletto heels, your red maple floor will mark faster than a chicken on a June Bug. If you really want that beautiful maple floor, suggest you choose the hardwood maple option. The latter’s score on the Janka Hardness Scale is nearly 50% greater than red maple. This may explain why a lot of reds are used as pulpwood when harvested, which is used to make paper products.
They do produce a sugary sap and it is delicious when tapped. However, its close cousin the sugar maple is more productive.
Ecologically, the trees most useful characteristics is probably reforestation. It can quickly colonize and propagate cleared land after which more diversified tree species can grow to form a new woodland.
Interesting/ Fun Facts
Native Americans had various uses for the bark of the red maple tree as a cleansing eye wash to soothe inflamed eyes and also to treat cataracts and muscle aches. In addition, they made a brew from the internal bark for both diarrhea and coughs.
Pioneers discovered that if they added iron sulfate to tannin extracted from the bark, they could make a rudimentary writing ink.
Did you know that red maple trees identify as gender fluid? It’s true. They are also gender flexible in the biological sense. The arboricultural term is polygamodioecious. Some are male, some are female, and some are monecious in that they have both male and female flowers. The tree has occasionally been observed to switch between male and female and male to hermaphrodite then back again to female.
Strength of Wood:
Red maple trees are fast growing but this creates a softer wood. It also comes with a weak branch structure. As such, they are not the strongest trees to resist storms despite their flexibility.
Tree Pests/ Diseases:
Abiotic: Chlorosis can occur when red maples are planted in alkali soil and during dry spells. So if you see yellow leaves with green spines on your tree before fall, run a soil pH test to determine the levels in your soil. Then share the results with your arborist or nearby tree nursery about soil conditioning solutions.
Biotic: Microbes and fungi may affect your maple adversely. These include athracnose, verticillium wilt (a fungus), leaf spot and powdery mildew.
As a native species, your red maple tree will naturally play host to a wide variety of bugs attracted by its soft wood and sugary sap. These include maple worms, aphids, canker-worms, leaf hoppers, maple gall mites and several butterfly and moth caterpillars. If the tree is healthy, these pests are usually kept in check by the tree’s own defenses and by birds and small mammals who feed upon these critters.
Wild mammals too use the tree as a source of food. White-tailed deer and rabbits like the young shoots and leaves. The seeds also attract rodents and squirrels.
Tree Care Tips for Homeowners:
Abiotic: These trees love moist soils. So apply a 2 to 3 inch layer of organic mulch up to the drip line (canopy circumference) taking care to keep the rot flare exposed to the air. As red maples are often planted in lawns and other landscape locations, a mulched band of ground around the tree’s trunk will also protect it from mower or weed-whacker damage.
Watering: Mature specimens won’t need watering if planted in naturally moist soils. They can grow in drier soils but will need slow, deep irrigation on a regular basis. They are tolerant of occasional flooding but not persistent over-watering. Roots can drown through lack of oxygen.
Fertilization: Usually unnecessary but if the tree is struggling e.g., with verticillium wilt, run a simple soil test for nutrients and share with your local nurseryman before buying a suitable fertilizer and/or spray. Pruning: Isn’t necessary, typically. This tree is especially sensitive to the trimming of its large branches. Avoid cutting branches more than 2 or 3 inches in diameter. And avoid any pruning in late winter or spring as this tree will bleed a lot of sap when cut. Just remove any dead branches if you have the necessary skills and safety equipment. Best time to trim live branches is from mid-summer to fall because of the sap issue earlier in the season.
Pest & Disease Control: Monitor your tree closely every couple of weeks. Do not be surprised to see creatures living in your tree. However, alarm bells should sound if there are large areas affected by a pest or fungus or over predation. Call your local arborist for help.
- Great shade tree
- Fantastic flower color in early spring
- Brilliant red leaf color in fall
- Great curb impact for suburban yards
- Adaptable root system depending on ambient moisture level
- Native to Eastern States so good ambient resistance to pests
- Host to many local species of moths and butterflies
- More tolerant of urban conditions than the sugar maple
Less attractive features
- Occasionally vulnerable to verticillium wilt if soil is poor in nutrients. This leads to browning, wilting and eventual loss of leaves.
- Susceptible to storm damage which may necessitate our emergency tree removal service
- Hundreds of thousands of seeds per tree in bumper years
- Shallow roots can buckle nearby paving/asphalt
- Fallen leaves are very toxic to horses and other livestock
We like this helpful video on the red maple tree from University of Kentucky’s Forestry and Natural Resources: