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Plant Guide

Acer rubrum L.
red maple




Growth Habit


U.S. Nativity

Native to U.S.

Federal T/E Status


National Wetland Indicator




Active Growth Period

Spring and Summer

After Harvest Regrowth Rate




C:N Ratio


Coppice Potential


Fall Conspicuous


Fire Resistant


Flower Color


Flower Conspicuous


Foliage Color


Foliage Porosity Summer


Foliage Porosity Winter


Foliage Texture


Fruit/Seed Color


Fruit/Seed Conspicuous


Growth Form

Single Stem

Growth Rate


Height at 20 Years, Maximum (feet)


Height, Mature (feet)


Known Allelopath


Leaf Retention




Low Growing Grass


Nitrogen Fixation


Resprout Ability


Shape and Orientation





Growth Requirements

Adapted to Coarse Textured Soils


Adapted to Fine Textured Soils


Adapted to Medium Textured Soils


Anaerobic Tolerance


CaCO3 Tolerance


Cold Stratification Required


Drought Tolerance


Fertility Requirement


Fire Tolerance


Frost Free Days, Minimum


Hedge Tolerance


Moisture Use


pH, Minimum


pH, Maximum


Planting Density per Acre, Minimum


Planting Density per Acre, Maximum


Precipitation, Minimum


Precipitation, Maximum


Root Depth, Minimum (inches)


Salinity Tolerance


Shade Tolerance


Temperature, Minimum (°F)




Bloom Period

Early Spring

Commercial Availability

Routinely Available

Fruit/Seed Abundance


Fruit/Seed Period Begin


Fruit/Seed Period End


Fruit/Seed Persistence


Propagated by Bare Root


Propagated by Bulb


Propagated by Container


Propagated by Corm


Propagated by Cuttings


Propagated by Seed


Propagated by Sod


Propagated by Sprigs


Propagated by Tubers


Seed per Pound


Seed Spread Rate


Seedling Vigor


Small Grain


Vegetative Spread Rate




Berry/Nut/Seed Product


Christmas Tree Product


Fodder Product


Fuelwood Product


Lumber Product


Naval Store Product


Nursery Stock Product


Palatable Browse Animal


Palatable Graze Animal


Palatable Human


Post Product


Protein Potential


Pulpwood Product


Veneer Product



Kingdom  Plantae -- Plants

Subkingdom  Tracheobionta -- Vascular plants

Superdivision  Spermatophyta -- Seed plants

Division  Magnoliophyta -- Flowering plants

Class  Magnoliopsida -- Dicotyledons

Subclass  Rosidae

Order  Sapindales

Family  Aceraceae -- Maple family

Genus  Acer L. -- maple P

Species  Acer rubrum L. -- red maple P


Alternate common names

Carolina red maple, Drummond red maple, scarlet maple, soft maple, swamp maple, water maple



Red maple has long been valued as an ornamental tree (shade, specimen, autumn accent, or wet site) because of its ease of establishment, rapid growth, brightly colored flowers and fruit, and fall leaf colors (ranging from clear yellow to orange to vivid red) displaying coloring during different seasons of the year. This tree is preferred over silver maple or boxelder when a fast growing maple is needed.  Red maple can be planted onto many types of disturbed sites in rehabilitation projects.


The white, fine-grained wood is used for furniture, flooring, cabinetry, paneling, veneer, musical instruments, tool handles, cutting boards, butcher blocks, wooden bowls, boxes and crates, and many other uses.  Red maple is an excellent wood for fuel and is also used for saw timber and pulpwood.  But because of susceptibility to defects and disease and poor form of individuals of sprout-clump origin, the timber is often low in quality. 


The sap of red maple is sometimes used for producing maple syrup.  Although its sap has only about half the sugar content as sugar maple (A. saccharum), the syrup tastes good.  Saponins in the sap may cause excessive frothing of the concentrate. 


Native Americans used red maple bark as an analgesic, wash for inflamed eyes and cataracts, and as a remedy for hives and muscular aches.  Tea brewed from the inner bark has been used for treating coughs and diarrhea.  Pioneers made cinnamon-brown and black dyes from a bark extract.  Iron sulphate was added to the tannin from red maple bark to make ink.


Because of the abundance and wide distribution red maple, its early-produced pollen may be important to the biology of bees and other pollen-dependent insects.  Most references describe red maple as wind pollinated, but insect pollination may be important, as many insects, especially bees, visit the flowers.  The seeds, buds and flowers are eaten by various wildlife species.  Squirrels and chipmunks store the seeds.  White-tailed deer, moose, elk browse red maple, and rabbits, which find the stump sprouts especially palatable, especially in fall and winter.  Cavities in red maples in river floodplain communities are often well suited for cavity nesters such as the wood duck and others.



Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status, such as, state noxious status and wetland indicator values.  This species has been introduced in many areas of the U.S., outside of its native range.



General: Maple Family (Aceraceae).  A native tree growing to 20 m tall, usually with a narrow compact crown, single-boled, or often in clumps of stems from one stump due to prolific sprouting; bark gray and thin, becoming furrowed into long narrow scaly ridges on older trunks and branches.  The leaves are deciduous, opposite, long-petioled, blades 6-10 cm long and usually about as wide, with 3 shallow short-pointed lobes, sometimes with two smaller lobes near the base, dull green and smooth above, lighter green or silvery beneath and more or less hairy.  The flowers are pink to dark red, about 3 mm long, the male (staminate) flowers fascicled and the female (pistillate) flowers in drooping racemes.  The flowers appear to be bisexual but they are functionally male or female, and individual trees may be all male or all female or some trees may have both types, each type on a separate branch (the species technically polygamo-dioecious), or the flowers may be functionally bisexual.  Fruits: winged nutlets (samaras) in a pair, 2-2.5 cm long, clustered on long stalks, red to red-brown.  The common name is in reference to the red twigs, buds, flowers, and fall leaves.  


Variation within the species: Red maple is highly variable and many varieties and forms have been identified.  The following varieties are commonly recognized:


        Var. drummondii (Hook. & Arn. ex Nutt.) Sarg.

        Var. trilobum Torr. & Gray ex K. Koch


Red maple forms natural hybrids with silver maple (A. saccharinum): Acer X freemanii E. Murray.


Distribution: Red maple is one of the most widely distributed trees in eastern North America, extending from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia west to southern Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, then south through Missouri, eastern Oklahoma, and southern Texas, and east to southern Florida.  Its distribution has been increased past its native range through broad cultivation and naturalization of the cultivated forms. 



Red maple is also one of the most successful and abundant species in the Eastern Deciduous Forest, arguably the most abundant, reproducing aggressively by seeds and sprouts after fire, logging, and abandonment of farmland.  It is most abundant on bottomlands and is tolerant of waterlogged soils and flooding, but it is a “supergeneralist,” growing on the widest variety of sites and in the greatest range of conditions (sunny or shady, high or low nutrients, dry or moist) of any North American species, from 0-900 meters.  Because red maple grows well in shade, is a key late-successional species, but it also is a successful early successional invader of disturbed sites.  “It will probably continue to increase in dominance in the overstory during the next century, causing widespread replacement of the historically dominant trees of the forests of the eastern United States”  (Abrams 1998, p. 355).   Fire suppression has contributed greatly to the spread of red maple (the thin bark makes it highly susceptible to fire damage) but no single trait is responsible for its success. 


Flowering: (February-)March-April, before the vegetative buds, one of the first trees to flower in the spring; fruiting: April-June, before leaf development is complete. 



Red maple is a prolific seed producer and trees as young as four years may begin to bear seeds.  Good seed crops are usually produced in alternate years.  Seedbed requirements are minimal and up to 95% of viable seeds germinate in the first 10 days; some survive in the duff and germinate the following year.  Because the mature seeds are dispersed in spring and can germinate immediately, seedlings can become established with a 3-4 month advantage over most associated woody species.  A bank of persistent seedlings often accumulates beneath a forest canopy. 


Seedlings can survive 3-5 years of moderate shade, but establishment and early growth are best after disturbance.  Male (staminate) trees may grow faster than female ones.  Average longevity for red maple is about 80-100 years, but trees are known to reach 200 years of age. 


Vegetative reproduction under natural conditions is common from sprouts from the stump or 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. 



Red maple is easily transplanted and is one of the easiest trees to grow.  It is abundantly available in commerce, in ball-and-burlap and in container, but where other fertile trees grow in the area, volunteers usually are common.  Propagation of cultivars is by budding onto seedling understock or rooted stem cuttings – the species form (although rarely propagated) by rooted stem cuttings or by seeds.  Softwood cuttings are propagated under mist, using 1000-3000 ppm IBA, in about four weeks. 


Despite its value and wide use (even to the point of over-planting in some areas), red maple has some drawbacks as a lawn and street tree.  As a street tree, it often becomes too large, and it does not respond well to some urban stresses, particularly protracted drought because of the planting site or long spells of hot dry weather.  One of the "soft maples," red maple branches are weak and somewhat brittle and are subject to storm damage.  The bark is thin and easily damaged by mechanical impact (including lawn mowers, weed eaters, and even increment boring) as well as fire, allowing entry of various damaging fungi and insects – butt rot, trunk rot fungi, heart rot, and stem diseases are common in damaged trees, although pests and pathogens otherwise are relatively few.  As in some other maples, feeder roots develop close to the surface and turf and other shallow-rooted plants must compete directly with the tree for water.  Turf beneath the canopy often is stunted and mowing may be difficult because of the protruding roots. 


Growth in alkaline soils may lead to leaf chlorosis and a weakly growing tree, especially among the cultivars.  Fertilization in spring can help overcome this.  Graft incompatibilities have appeared between some cultivars of red maple and their rootstock, the trees often breaking off at the union between scion and rootstock, but propagation by softwood cutting has circumvented this problem. 


Cultivars, Improved and Selected Materials (and area of origin)

Many cultivars of red maple have been developed.  Selections have been made for color tints and brightness, timing of onset of coloration, crown shape and branching pattern, cold hardiness, leaf size, only male flowers (no seeds or seedlings), and leafhopper resistance.



Abrams, M. 1998.  The red maple paradox.  What explains the widespread expansion of red maple in eastern forests?  Bioscience (May), 355-364.  


Anonymous 2000.  Why is swamp thing (red maple) taking over the forests?  Univ. of Connecticut Cooperative Extension Forestry.  AUG00.  <www.canr.uconn.edu/ces/forest/redmaple.htm>


Koelling, M.R. & R.B. Heiligmann (eds.) 1996.  North American maple syrup producers manual.  Ohio State Univ. Extension Bull. 856.  AUG00.  <https://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~ohioline/b856/index.html>


Li, H.-L. 1960.  The cultivated maples.  Morris Arbor. Bull. 11:41-47.


Tirmenstein, D.A. 1991.  Acer rubrum.  IN: W.C. Fischer (compiler).  The fire effects information system [data base].  USDA, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Intermountain Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, Montana. 


Walters, R.S. & H.W. Yawney 1990.  Acer rubrum L.  Red maple.  Pp. 60-69, IN: R.M. Burns and B.H. Honkala (tech. coords.).  Silvics of North AmericaVolume 2.  Hardwoods.  USDA, Forest Service Agric. Handbook 654, Washington, D.C. 


Prepared By

Guy Nesom, BONAP, North Carolina Botanical Garden, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina


Species Coordinator

Lincoln Moore, USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Edited: 13nov00 jsp;07feb03ahv; 24may06jsp


For more information about this and other plants, please contact your local NRCS field office or Conservation District, and visit the PLANTS Web site<https://plants.usda.gov> or the Plant Materials Program Web site <https://Plant-Materials.nrcs.usda.gov>




Attribution:  U.S. Department of Agriculture 

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