The red maple, Acer rubrum, also known as swamp, water, or soft maple, is a wide- spread medium sized deciduous tree of eastern and central North America.
It is the State tree of Rhode Island. The U.S. Forest service now recognizes it as the most abundant native tree in our eastern mixed hardwood forest, while in colonial times it was estimated to comprise only about 5% of the woodlands, with Chestnuts being the dominant species.
Maples are usually about 40–70 ft. tall, but may reach over 100 ft. The bark is pale grey and smooth in young trees and becomes scaly and an attractive grey-brown in older ones. As the tree grows, the bark becomes darker and cracks into slightly raised long plates.
This tree is aptly named, because of its shades of red foliage in the fall, with red leaf stalks, twigs and seeds. Maple leaves are green on the upper side and grey-green or whiter on the underside. They are 2– 4” long with 3–5 palmate lobes. The showy red flowers occur in hanging clusters early in the spring before the leaves emerge.
Driving down I-95 to Florida in late January or February one can enjoy the progression of red maples flowering—while there may be snow and cold weather in our area and no signs of spring, the maples are quite red when nearing Florida!
The seeds, about 1⁄2 to 3/4-inch-long, called “samaras,” form in bunches on long slender stems. Who has not enjoyed watching these tiny “helicopters” spin down to earth?
Red maples are a very valuable food source for several forms of wildlife. Many insects and butterflies visit the flowers, and the seeds are eat- en by squirrels and birds. The twigs are eaten by rabbits, deer and moose.
At Kendal our arboretum-designated tree is No. 39 on the North Loop, below the library.
Martin Wells and Judy Czeiner, Photographer