Acer rubrum

Red Maple

Acer rubrum, Red Maple

Red Maple, BWCA
Photo © by Earl J.S. Rook

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Acer, from the Latin for maple
  • rubrum, from the Latin, "red"
  • Common Name, from bright red spring color
  • Other common names include Scarlet Maple, Soft Maple, Swamp Maple, Water Maple, Drummond's Red Maple, Rot-Ahorn (Ger)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Rosidae, the Roses
        • Order Sapindales
          • Family Aceraceae, the Maples
            • Genus Acer, the Maples
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 28728
  • Also known as Acer carolinianum, Rufacer carolinianum, Rufacer rubrum
  • Hybridizes naturally with Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)


  • A large native deciduous tree, 30'-90' tall.
  • Leaves simple, opposite, and palmate, with triangular lobes and doubly toothed edges; 2½"-4" long and nearly as wide.
    • Surface unfolding reddish, gradually turning to green; paler underneath. Veins retain reddish tint all summer.
    • Leafstalk red
    • Fall Collor yellow, orange, or scarlet red.
  • Stem
    • Trunk relatively long and clear of branches and up to 4' in diameter; crown oval and irregular, or rounded,
    • Bark smooth and grey, darkening and becoming furrowed in narrow ridges with age.
    • Twigs stout and shiny red to grayish brown.
  • Flowers small, fragrant clusters of red and orange flowers hanging from the reddish twigs, borne in slender-stalked, drooping clusters.
  • Fruit a paired, red, pink, or yellow, winged samara, about ¾" long.


  • For the most part, the only tree maple in the North Woods.
  • Distinguished from Moose Maple (Acer spicatum) by its tree form and size and its larger leaf. Moose Maple is generally a multi-stemmed shrub with smaller leaves.


  • One of the most widely distributed trees in eastern North America; 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.


  • Much of the deciduous forest of eastern North America and into the fringes of the boreal forest, on a variety of wet to dry sites in dense woods and openings.
  • Grows in low, rich woods, along the margins of lakes, marshes, and swamps, in wet thickets, and on floodplains and stream terraces.
  • Dominant in many forest types. In much of the Northeast it grows as an overstory dominant only in swamps and other wet sites.
  • Soils a wider range of types, textures, moisture regimes, and pH than any other North American tree. Best on moist, fertile, loamy soils but also grows on dry, rocky, upland soils. Grows on soils derived from a variety of materials, including granite, shales, slates, gneisses, schists, sandstone, limestone, conlgomerates, and quartzites.
  • Occupies a wide range of successional stages and is moderately tolerant of shade in the North. Commonly grows as a subclimax or mid-successional species. Lives longer than most successional species but generally does not persist into later stages.
  • Commonly increases after disturbances such as windthrow, or fire.
  • In many locations, has increased since presettlement due to Dutch Elm Disease, Chestnut Blight, oak decline, and Gypsy Moth infestations.
  • Insects: Loopers, spanworms, the gallmaking maple borer, maple callus borer, Columbian timber borer,and various scale insects are common damaging agents.
  • Disease: Butt rot, trunk rot fungi, heart rot, and stem diseases common in damaged trees.
  • Tolerant of water-logged soils and flooding; somewhat tolerant of ice damage.


  • Intolerant of fire; even large individuals can be killed by moderate fires. Postfire mortality relatively high for saplings, but as bark becomes thicker and more fire-resistant with age, mortality is much reduced.
  • Sprouts vigorously from the root crown after aboveground vegetation is killed by fire. Seedling establishment may also occur.
  • Common on burned lands in boreal forests of northern Minnesota.



  • During the last Ice Age retreated with other hardwoods to the relative shelter of the lower Mississippi Valley, moving north after the pioneering conifers as the ice sheets melted.
  • First cultivated in 1656


  • Sawtimber and pulpwood; the soft, close-grained, light brown wood is also used for furniture, veneer, pallets, cabinetry, plywood, barrels, crates, flooring, and railroad ties. Often poorly regarded as a timber species due to susceptibility to defects and disease, and poor form of individuals of sprout-clump origin.
  • Can be used to make maple syrup, although Sugar Maple is much more commonly used.


  • Seed borne as early as 4 years of age. Produces good or better seed crops over most of its range in 1 out of 2 years. Bumper seed crops do occur. Trees 12" in diameter can produce nearly 1 million seeds. Seed is wind dispersed.
    • Germination: Up to 95% of viable seed germinates in first 10 days; some seed survives in the duff and germinates the following year.
    • Seedling establishment: Seedbed requirements minimal, and a bank of persistent seedlings often accumulates beneath a forest canopy. Seedlings can survive 3-5 years of moderate shade.
  • One of the first trees to flower in early spring, flowers appearing several weeks before vegetative buds. Fruit matures in spring before leaf development is complete.
  • Vegetative regeneration: sprouts vigorously from the stump, root crown, or root suckers after fire or mechanical damage. Buds located at the base of stems commonly sprout 2-6 weeks after the stem is cut.


  • By seed.


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Characterized by showy fruits and flowers and colorful fall foliage.
  • Many cultivars are available.
  • Cultivars and species available by mail order from specialty suppliers or at local nurseries



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Last updated on 4 March, 2006