red maple (Acer rubrum)
SCIENTIFIC SYNONYMS: There are no scientific synonyms for
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: Red maple is a member of the maple family Aceraceae. It
exhibits great morphological variation and has been included in a highly
variable complex of related taxa. The currently accepted scientific name
of red maple is Acer rubrum L. Many varieties and forms have been
identified, but most are no longer recognized. The following varieties are
commonly recognized: 1) Acer rubrum var. drummondii (Hook. & Arn. ex
Nutt.) Sarg., and 2) Acer rubrum var. trilobum Torr. & Gray ex K. Koch.
Several forms, differentiated on the basis of various morphological
characteristics, are commonly delineated: 1) Acer rubrum f. tomentosum
(Tausch) Siebert & Voss, 2) Acer rubrum f. rubrum, and 3) Acer rubrum
Red maple hybridizes with silver maple (Acer saccharinum) under
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Red maple is a
deciduous tree that grows 30 to 90 feet (9-28 m) tall and up to 4 feet
(1.6 m) in diameter. The bark is smooth and gray but darkens and
becomes furrowed in narrow ridges with age. Twigs are stout and shiny
red to grayish brown. The small, fragrant flowers are borne in slender-
stalked, drooping, axillary clusters. The fruit is a paired, winged samara,
approximately 0.75 inch (1.9 cm) long. Samaras are red, pink, or yellow.
REGENERATION PROCESSES: Seed: Red maple can bear seed as
early as 4 years of age and produces good or better seed crops over most
of its range in 1 out of 2 years. Bumper seed crops do occur. Trees are
extremely prolific; individual trees 2 to 8 inches (5-20 cm) in diameter
commonly produce 12,000 to 91,000 seeds annually, and trees 12 inches
(30 cm) in diameter can produce nearly 1,000,000 seeds. Seed is wind
dispersed. Seed banking: In parts of Nova Scotia and Minnesota, red maple
seed has been found buried at depths of 0 to 6 inches (0-16 cm), but these
seeds are usually not viable. Up to 95 percent of viable seed germinates
with the first 10 days; some seed survives within the duff and germinates
the following year. Seedling establishment: Seedbed requirements for red
maple are minimal, and a bank of persistent seedlings often accumulates
beneath a forest canopy. Seedlings may number more than 11,000 per
acre (44,534/ha) and can survive for 3 to 5 years under moderate shade.
Red maple sprouts vigorously from the stump, root crown, or "root
suckers" after fire or mechanical damage. Buds located at the base of
stems commonly sprout 2 to 6 weeks after the stem is cut.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Red maple grows throughout throughout
much of the deciduous forest of eastern North America and into the fringes
of the boreal forest. It occurs on a variety of wet to dry sites in dense woods
and in openings. Red maple grows in low, rich woods, along the margins of
lakes, marshes, and swamps, in hammocks, wet thickets, and on floodplains
and stream terraces . Red maple also occurs in drier upland woodlands, low-
elevation cove forests, dry sandy plains, and on stable dunes. Red maple is
a common dominant in many forest types and is considered a major species
or associate in more that 56 cover types. In much of the Northeast it grows
as an overstory dominant only in swamps and other wet sites. Red maple
grows in association with more than 70 important tree species.
Red maple does well on a wider range of soil types, textures, moisture
regimes, and pH than does any other forest species in North America.
It develops best on moist, fertile, loamy soils but also grows on a variety
of dry, rocky, upland soils. Red maple grows on soils derived from a
variety of parent materials, including granite, shales, slates, gneisses,
schists, sandstone, limestone, conlgomerates, and quartzites. It also
occurs on a variety of lacustrine sediments, glacial till, and glacial out-
wash. Red maple grows from sea level to 3,000 feet (0-900 m) in elevation.
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Red maple is characterized by a wide
ecological amplitude and occupies a wide range of successional stages. It is
moderately tolerant of shade in the North but intolerant of shade in the
Piedmont. Red maple commonly grows as a subclimax or mid-seral species,
but characteristics such as vigorous sprouting, prolific seeding, and ability
to compete enable it to pioneer on a variety of disturbed sites. This tree
lives longer than most seral species but generally does not persist in late
successional stages. In even-aged stands which develop after clearcutting,
red maple is commonly overtopped by faster growing species such as
northern red oak. In a few locations in the Southeast, it grows as a climax
dominant in wet-site communities. Red maple commonly increases after
disturbances such as windthrow, clearcutting, or fire. In many locations,
red maple has increased in importance since presettlement times. Dutch
elm disease and chestnut blight have led to increases in the number of
red maple stems in many stands. In many parts of the East, red maple
has increased in gaps resulting from oak decline and gypsy moth
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Red maple is one of the first trees to
flower in early spring. Specific flowering dates are largely dependent on
weather conditions, and latitude and elevation. Flowers generally appear
several weeks before vegetative buds. Bud break may be affected by soil
factors, and is typically delayed for 7 to 10 days on copper-, lead-, and
zinc-mineralized sites. Fruit matures in spring before leaf development is
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Red maple is one of the most widely
distributed trees in eastern North America. Its range extends from
Newfoundland and Nova Scotia west to southern Ontario, Minnesota,
Wisconsin, and Illinois; south through Missouri, eastern Oklahoma, and
southern Texas; and east to southern Florida. It is conspicuously absent
from the bottomland forests of the Corn Belt in the Prairie Peninsula of the
Midwest, the coastal prairies of southern Louisiana and southeastern Texas,
and the swamp prairie of the Florida everglades. It is cultivated in Hawaii.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION:
Tree specimens can be found on trails marked in red.
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
South Ridge/North Ridge
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES: Red maple
occurs as a dominant or codominant in several eastern deciduous forests
and deciduous swamp communities with black ash (Fraxinus nigra),
yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), northern red oak (Quercus rubra),
black oak (Quercus velutinus), aspen (Populus tremuloides), and elm
(Ulmus spp.). In mesic upland communities of the Southeast, it grows
as an over- story dominant with sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
and water oak (Quercus palustris).
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Red maple is browsed by some wildlife
species, including white-tailed deer, moose, elk, and snowshoe hare. It is
a particularly valuable white-tailed deer browse during the late fall and
winter, and is considered an important deer food in New Brunswick, Nova
Scotia, Maine, and Minnesota. Although red maple is browsed by moose,
it is often only lightly used. Red maple is one of the most palatable white-
tailed deer foods; stump sprouts are especially sought out by deer. It should
be noted that red maple browse is toxic to cattle and horses, particularly
during the summer and late fall.
Maples provide cover for many species of wildlife. The screech owl,
pileated woodpecker, and common flicker nest in cavities in many species
of maple. Cavities in red maples in river floodplain communities are often
well suited for cavity nesters such as the wood duck. Riparian red maple communities provide autumn roosts for blackbirds.
Red maple can be planted onto many types of disturbed sites. It can be
propagated by seed or by various vegetative techniques. Seedlings have
been observed colonizing strip mine spoils in parts of Maryland, West
Virginia, and Florida, but seedlings transplanted onto strip-mine spoil
banks often do poorly and direct seeding in old-field communities has
not been successful.
Red maple is an important source of sawtimber and pulpwood but is often
overlooked as a wood resource. The wood is used for furniture, veneer,
pallets, cabinetry, plywood, barrels, crates, flooring, and railroad ties.
Red maple is characterized by showy fruits and flowers and colorful fall
foliage. Red maple was first cultivated in 1656, and many cultivars are
available. Red maple can be used to make maple syrup, although sugar
maple is much more commonly used.
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