Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

by Karen Madoff (Mar’21)

Walk outside your front door or onto the back porch and look around. Is there anything in bloom now, the end of February, beginning of March?  The temperatures are starting to moderate, high 60’s, low 70’s, and the honeybees are emerging from their hives and they are hungry. Their stores of winter honey from the previous year are depleted and the Queen is anxious to start laying eggs. Is your yard a welcoming buffet or a food desert?

One plant that stands out this time of year is the deciduous Red Maple (Acer rubrum), a native tree that grows 40- 60 feet tall and 30-50 feet wide. At this time of year, it is in full bloom. It is the most abundant native tree in Eastern North America and responsible for the crimson reds, bright yellow and all colors in between that delights us in Fall.  The growth rate can be as much as 36” per year, faster than Sugar and Norway Maples.

Red Maple flower by Ed Kanze

The wonderful versatility of Red Maple includes the greatest North to South distribution of any tree.  There are three recognized varieties of Red Maple, drumondii, rubrum and trilobum which have different preferences in soil moisture and slightly varied leaf forms. Drumondii is nicknamed the Swamp Maple, preferring wet sites, trilobum, nicknamed Trident Maple for its three lobed leaves, and rubrum for red flowers and red or green samaras.  The leaves are opposite on branches and Fall color is influenced by soil acidity. Given these individual characteristics, the Red Maple can be grown in sand or clay, wet or dry soils, and from Canada to Florida and parts of Texas.

This tree is attractive to a variety of wildlife, from deer to squirrels. It is the host plant of a variety of inchworms, which are relished by birds and results in several moths like the Rosy Maple Moth.

Rosy Maple Moth by Karen Madoff

Orange Humped Mapleworm by Karen Madoff