Red Maple – October 2013 Tree of the Month

by Ann Farnham, LLA

The Ewing Environmental Commission has selected the Red Maple, Acer rubrum, as the Tree of the Month for October.

Red Maple, a plant native to the Eastern United States and Canada, is one of our most common and beautiful deciduous trees. It is also known as Swamp Maple, Water Maple, and Soft Maple; it is hardy from USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 9. Ewing is in USDA Hardiness Zone 6.

This tree is medium to large, reaching 70’ tall but it can surpass that height to 100’ or more. It is relatively fast growing, and with age develops a round or oval outline. The flowers, which appear in March or April, are showy red or orange in dense clusters; they are thought of as harbingers of spring. The fruits are samaras, winged, flat and brownish red, about ¾” long. The leaves are lobed, opposite each other on the stem, and 2” to 5” long. The leaf color in summer is shiny green and grayish green to silvery on the underside. The thin bark is smooth and light-grey, almost silver in youth, and becomes scaly grey-brown with age; it is easily damaged by mowers. The roots are shallow and can lift sidewalks, interfere with mowing, and impede plant growth beneath it.

Red Maples are very water tolerant, found in bottomlands, bogs, and wet areas along streams. It is not particularly drought tolerant. This tree transplants easily in the spring and does best in a non-alkaline soil. It will thrive in full sun to partial shade in a wide range of soil types and it tolerates some air pollution. It makes a good shade tree for lawns and parks and is used successfully as a street tree as well, being adaptable to a very wide range of conditions. Leaf hoppers can cause significant damage to Red Maples and there is a borer which attacks young growth.

Red Maple is one of the first trees to turn color in the fall, and is perhaps best known for its outstanding fall color. There are many cultivated varieties (“cultivars”) which enhance this characteristic, such as ‘October Glory’, ‘Autumn Flame’, ‘Red Sunset’, and ‘Scarlet Sentinel’.

Very young trees may also be used for making beautiful, colorful Bonsai. The wood is soft grained and can also be used for furniture making although the wood shrinks somewhat more than other maples during the drying process. The Red Maple provides a medium-quality fire-wood, and it can also be used for maple syrup before the buds emerge; after sprouting the sap changes in its chemical makeup and the syrup then develops an undesirable flavor.

The Ewing Environmental Commission ( welcomes suggestions for the Tree of the Month from all Ewing residents.