What is a Red Maple Tree? - Home Stratosphere

What is a Red Maple Tree?

Here is everything you need to know about the red maple trees, their characteristics, how they reproduce, and their uses. We've also included the other types of maple trees along with some faqs that might interest you.

The red maple has the perfect name for itself. With red flowers, red leaves, red stems, red stalks, and redbuds, there is no wonder that this tree represents Canada. There are some that even nickname this tree “the red sunset”, as a forest of red maples will make any time of day look like a red sunset.

Red maples are extremely prosperous and help brighten up any landscape with their autumn blaze. Keep reading to learn more about Acer rubrum, or head on over to 101 Types of Trees to see what other incredible trees are out there.

We also have full descriptions of the Japanese Maple, Red Maple, and Silver Maple.

Acer Rubrum

The red maple is considered as being one of the most easily recognized trees in North America. Sometimes referred to as the scarlet maple, swamp maple (because of its habit of growing near swamps) and soft maple (because of the softer quality of its wood to other maples), it is the most common and widespread of all deciduous trees according to the United States Forest Service.

Red maples are mainly known for their spectacular red fall colors and are a very popular choice for an ornamental or shade tree. They are medium-large softwood trees and live to be up to 150 years old, though usually kick it after about 100 years.

They are the state tree of Rhode Island but are abundant in the entire eastern side of North America. They’re so good at growing that they are sometimes considered as being an invasive native species.

What do Red Maple Trees Look Like?

Root System

The red maple is a widely varying tree and develops different types of root systems depending on the growing location.

When a red maple grows in wet soils, they produce a short taproot system. These roots grow only up to 10 inches deep in the earth and grow laterally. Sometimes these lateral roots will grow as wide as their crown does, in most cases mature roots will be up to 25 meters long.

When a red maple grows in dry soils, they produce a woody taproot system. These roots will grow much deeper into the soil, and more vertically than horizontally. This is probably in reaction to dryer soil, and growing deep into the earth is a way to collect reserves. They have this in common with carrots!

Dimensions

Red maple trees

Red maples will usually grow to be between 27 and 38 meters in height with very wide-spreading crowns. The tallest red maple alive on record is 41 meters tall and lives in the southern Appalachian mountains. Their trunk diameters are quite wide and can be anywhere between 18 and 35 inches.

Growth Pattern

When this tree grows in forests, branches won’t start their growth until a good distance up the trunk, saving growing energy to branches that can reach the forest canopy and allow leaves to properly photosynthesize.

When this tree grows in open spaces, branches will start their growth much lower down on the trunk, creating a more full and robust tree shape. In both cases, crowns usually have an irregularly ovoid shape with whip-like curving shoots.

A leaf stalk is bright red and shiny with small lenticels, and are usually around 4 inches long. From the leaf stalks grow bright red twigs which hold the leaves.

Bark

A young tree will have red maple bark that is a pale gray color and is quite smooth. An old tree will become a much darker gray, and cracks into large plates that exfoliate.

Foliage

Red maple leaves

Red maple leaves are between 3 and 5 inches long and are oppositely arranged on their twig. They are simple leaves with 5 lobes — the three lobes at the terminal end are larger than the 2 at the base of the leaf. They emerge in the very early spring (they are actually one of the first trees to sprout their spring foliage).

The topside of the leaf is bright, soft, green, with a whitish underside that is covered in downy hairs. The level of soil acidity will actually affect the foliage color of the red maple. Additionally, female trees will more likely produce orange leaves, and maple trees will produce red leaves.

Red maple buds start their lives as being green and eventually turn red. They are bluntly shaped and are covered with loose scales. These form in the fall and winter.

How do Red Maple Trees Reproduce?

Flowers

Flowers of a red maple tree.

The reproductive process of red maples is a little bit all over the place. There are some trees that have unisex flowers, there are some that have bisexual flowers, and there are even some that are polygamodioecious. This long word indicates that flowers on one tree can be either male, female, or monoecious (possessing both sexual characteristics, allowing for self-pollination).

And if all of that weren’t complicated enough, under exactly ideal growing conditions, red maple flowers are able to even switch their gender; from male to female, male to hermaphroditic, and from hermaphroditic to female. They grow in dense clusters.

Like all other aspects of the red maple, the flower is also red and possess 5 small petals. This comes from a 5 lobed calyx (reproductive leaf organ) at the twig tip. Staminate flowers (pollen producing-male flowers) are sessile (having no stalk) and pistillate flowers (ovule producing-female flowers) have one pistil that is formed from two carpels with a superior ovary.

Fruit

There are many ways in which the red maple can become fertilized, it just depends on what kind of flowers they produce. Whether they be self-pollinated, wind-pollinated, or insect-pollinated, the fruit they produce emerges in the late spring.

The fruit is a samara, which is winged seeds. These pods grow on slender stems and are of varying colors, from dull brown to dull red. They ripen throughout April and June and become mature before leaves are fully matured. Then these samaras are released during a two week period usually occurring between April and July.

Sexual Maturity

A healthy, mature red maple can produce crops of between 91,000 and 1,000,000 seeds in a season. These trees become sexually mature usually around the age of 8, but it happens that they start producing seeds as early as 5.

They will produce seed crops every year, with a bumper crop every second year. Not all seeds will germinate right away, especially those that fall in a shady area. If a red maple seed falls in a full forest canopy with too much shade, it will remain dormant until a break in the canopy occurs, then the seed will know to germinate.

What are some other Types of Maple Tree?

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

Red and green Norway maple trees lining a wood fence.

This variety of maple is native from eastern France to Russia, from Scandinavia to Iran. These trees grow to be between 20 and 30 meters tall and differ from other species with their smooth mature bark. They grow similarly shaped leaves to the red maple, but their fall foliage is usually yellow or orange.

Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)

Japanese red maple tree during autumn.

This variety of maple is a native tree to Japan, Korea, China, Mongolia, and Russia. These trees are considered small trees or shrubs, and grow to be only 10 meters tall. They differ from the red maple by their multiple thin trunks and pointier 5 lobed leaves. They also have a huge variety of leaf color, from purple to red to yellow to brown.

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)

Tall silver maple trees

This variety of maple is native to the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. These trees grow to be 15-25 meters in height and are the most sunlight demanding of all maples. Their leaves are similar to that of the sugar maple, but their fall colors are far less pronounced.

Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

Sugar maple tree

This variety of maple is native to the eastern United States and Canada. These trees are the largest of all maples, ranging from 25-35 meters. They are best known for their tapping purposes to make maple syrup. They also have the most striking autumn blaze and can have every color of a leaf on the same tree.

Where do Red Maple Trees Grow?

Red maples are an extremely prosperous tree in North America. They are adaptable to many conditions, and their native site ranges 1600 miles north to south. They are native to all regions of the United States east of the 95th meridian, though that range ends where temperatures reach -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

In Canada, the red maple grows in the following provinces:

  • Manitoba
  • Ontario
  • Newfoundland
  • Nova Scotia
  • New Brunswick
  • Quebec

Red maple trees in a foggy forest with sunlight rays.

In the United States, the red maple grows in the following provinces:

  • Minnesota
  • Florida
  • Texas
  • Wisconsin
  • Illinous
  • Missouri
  • Oklahoma

Red maples grow well anywhere from sea level up to 3000 feet in altitude. They are commonly found near streams, swamps, peat bogs, and lakes. That being said, they are also found on dry ridges, south-facing slopes, and poorly drained flats and depressions.

They also thrive in young forests and are said to be replacing the staple trees like sugar maple, beech, hemlock, pine, and oak.

What are the Growing Conditions of Red Maples?

Temperature

Red maples can handle a great variety of temperatures but seem to stop growing before the great plains where temperatures become too hot and dry in the summer, and in regions where winter dips to be below -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Soil

We know that red maples can grow in any type of soil — dry, moist, waterlogged, draught-ridden, rocky, sandy, clay, loamy, whatever you can imagine. They seem to particularly like rocky glaciated soils derived from either conglomerate, granite, gneiss, limestone, quartzite, sandstone, schist, shale, and slate.

Sun Exposure

Red maples in a sunny park.

Maples are sun-loving trees and prefer to have absolutely full sun exposure all day long. This energy from the sun helps contribute to their stunning leaf color! They can handle partial shade but will produce brighter red fall color in full sun.

How are Red Maples Used?

Natural Dye

For many years red maple has been used in the creation of natural pigment dying by extracting tannins from the bark. By soaking red maple bark, a cinnamon brown or black color seeps out and can be concentrated into the dye.

Firewood

Red maple wood is considered as being medium quality firewood. It doesn’t have a very high heat capacity, and isn’t particularly dense, making so that it burns rather quickly without much heat.

Wood

The wood from red maples is called “soft maple” because its wood is far less durable and hard than sugar maple wood. Red maple wood is close-grained, softly textured, and isn’t particularly attractive. It is a less expensive wood option than other maples, and it stains more easily and is more workable.

Gardening

Beautiful autumn scene with red maples.

Red maples are easily maintained, beautiful, and tend to thrive more when they are neglected. They are a popular choice as a street tree (though urban pollution can affect the brightness of their foliage) and landscaping tree. They are also a very good tree to use for bonsai!

Medicinally

First Nations cultures have traditionally used red maple bark to create a salve that can help treat inflamed eyes, or as a remedy for hives or muscle aching. Bark will also be brewed into a red maple bark tea to help relieve a cough or sore throat.

Cultivars

Red maple cultivars are a useful tree for hybridization as well. A cultivar hybrid of the silver and red maple was created to be resistant against air pollution, drought, and verticillium wilt which causes powdery mildew on leaves. This hybrid is called Freeman Maple (Acer x freemanii).

FAQs

Are red maple trees red all year?

When red maple leaves first emerge they are a delicate red color that turns green in the spring, then to a brilliant red in the fall, and will sometimes change from there to yellow or orange as well. There is truly no telling what color red maple leaves will be, and the color can also be affected by the acidity of the soil the tree is growing in.

Are red maple trees messy?

Red maples are deciduous trees, meaning that they will shed their foliage seasonally. The tree will become completely bare, and so that is quite a large of leaves that will fall. However, fallen leaves provide a very important refuge for small mammals and insects to survive the winter months. Try not to rake too many leaves and help out these little critters!

Are red maple leaves simple or compound?

Red maple leaves grow simply — that means from one twig will grow one leaf. Red maple leaves have 5 distinct lobes, which can be mistaken for leaflets. A compound leaf is one leaf that is comprised of multiple individual leaflets.

Are red maple trees fast growing?

Red maples have a medium to fast growth rate and will grow anywhere from 12 inches to 24 inches in a year.

Can red maple trees produce syrup?

American red maple trees are also sapping producing, though the sap that they produce has a far less potent sugar content than that of the sugar maple. The syrup is sometimes made using red maple sap, though because of its varying growing sites, the quality of the syrup is always going to be a mystery.

How long do red maples live?

Red maples are semi-long living trees, and can sometimes live to be up to 150 years old, though they will usually start to wither out around 100.

How tall do red maples get?

Red maples are a medium-large tree and will grow between 25 and 35 meters. The tallest living red maple on record is 41 meters tall.

When should you plant a red maple tree?

The best time of year to plant a red maple is in the fall. This is because the tree will spend its energy establishing a solid root system before expending energy on trunk, branch, and leaf growth. Planting should be reserved to an area with moist soil and full sun exposure.

When should you prune a red maple tree?

Trees do not need the help of a human to grow properly. The only purpose of pruning is for the aesthetic preference of a property owner. However, it is best to avoid pruning in the winter as the wound will continue to seep sap and create an enormous mess.

Additionally, reserve pruning for branches that appear as being either sickly or wounded, or a branch that is growing in an awkward direction and interfering with other branches.

How far do red maple tree roots spread?

In moist soil, red maples will have surface roots that spread laterally up to 25 meters, and only 10 inches into the soil. In dry soil, red maples have taproot systems that grow up to 6 meters into the earth and grow more horizontally.

Why does a red maple tree not turn red?

Red maples are incredibly varying, and not all of them are going to look the same. If a red maple isn’t developing red leaves, it has to do with its environment. Road salt or urban pollution can affect the vibrancy of red maple leaves, or soil that is low in minerals and high in acidity can also affect its leaf color.

Scroll to Top