Acer rubrum

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Acer rubrum
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida - Dicots
Order: Sapindales
Family: Aceraceae
Genus: Acer
Species: A. rubrum
Binomial name
Acer rubrum
Natural range of Acer rubrum from USDA NRCS Plants Database.

Common names: eastern red maple, Carolina red maple, Drummond's maple, scarlet maple, soft maple, swamp maple, water maple[1][2][3]

Taxonomic Notes

Variations: A. rubrum Linnaeus var. rubrum; A. rubrum Linnaeus var. trilobum Torrey & A. Gray ex K. Koch.; A. rubrum L. var. drummondii Hook. & Arn. ex Nutt. Sarg.[1][2]
Synonyms: A. barbatum Michx. p.p.[2]


The red maple is classified as polygamodioecious, indicating its population is a mixture of male, female, and trees with both male and female flowers or hermaphroditic flowers (one flower containing both male & female parts).[4] A. rubrum is a oval shaped deciduous perrenial tree that can reach heights of 60 to 75 ft (18.3-22.9 m) with a spread of 25-35 feet (7.6-10.7 m). Unless growing next to a water source, individuals in the southern portion of its range tend to be shorter than northern individuals. Leaves are simple ovate with lobed, incised, serrate margins.[5] In cooler climates (e.g. Rhode Island), leaves tend to have more teeth and are more highly dissected than in warmer climates (e.g. Florida).[6] Venation is palmate and leaves are arranged opposite/sub-opposite. During the spring and summer, leaves are green, but in the fall they change to orange, red, and yellow before falling from the tree. Flowers are red and produce an elongated red fruit of 1 to 3 in (2.5-7.6 cm) with a dry/hard covering.[5] Roots are primarily horizontal, being found in the upper 9.8 in (0.25 m) of soil.[7]


A. rubrum occurs across the eastern United states including parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota. This range includes the entirety of the southeastern United States coastal plain where all three variations of the the species are found. The red maple can also be found in parts of Oregon and eastern Canada.[2]



A. rubrum is most abundant in bottom lands but are known to quickly establish in other areas disturbed by fire, logging, and abandoned farming areas. It is also tolerant of waterlogged soils and flooding making it a "super-generalist" growing on the widest variety of sites and in the greatest range of conditions of any North American species.[3] Despite their ability to aggressively colonize disturbed, wet, and shady areas, A. rubrum is intolerent of frequent fires[3][8] and areas where saltwater inundation can occur [9]


A. rubrum has been observed to flower between January and April[3][10] with fruiting occurring between April and June.[3]

Seed dispersal

Trees as young as 4 years can begin producing [3] double samara seeds (two connected winged fruits) which separate as they mature.[11] As the seed falls from the tree, the samara rotates producing lift and limiting the terminal velocity of the seed.[12] Distances seeds travel is highly correlated with wing loading potentials, a seeds initial height, and the velocity of the wind.[12][13]

Seed bank and germination

95% of viable seeds germinate within 10 days of dispersal allowing A. rubrum seedlings to establish themselves 3-4 months before other associated woody species.[3]

Fire ecology

The thin bark and lower rates of resprouting make A. rubrum a very fire intolerant species.[3][8] Although a single fire event can reduce seedling and sapling densities, it is quick to recolonize to pre-burn levels within four growing seasons via seedlings and resprouts. [14]


A. rubrum is an important species for weakened overwintered pollinators such as honey bees. This is because A. rubrum blooms before most vernal plants and possesses masses of conspicuous, fragrant flowers abundant in nectar and pollen. Common pollinators include species from Tenthredinidae (sawflies), Braconidae (parasitoid wasps), Colletidae (plasterer bees), Andrenidae (solitary ground-nesting bees), Halictidae (sweat bees), Megachilidae (mason and leafcutter bees), Apidae (bumblebees, honey bees, carpenter bees, orchid bees, cuckoo bees), Vespidae (eusocial wasps and many solitary wasps), Calliphoridae (blow flies), Scathophagidae (dung flies), Syrphidae (hoverflies), Tachinidae (true flies), and Coccinellidae (ladybugs).[15]

Use by animals

Seeds of the red maple are consumed by many different species of squirrels, birds, and other mammals.[5] Depredation of seeds tend to increase with the age of old field habitat and is higher in woody habitats compared to herbaceous habitats.[16] A. rubrum can also influence ecological interactions of newts and frogs through the effects of its leaf litter on water quality.[17]

Diseases and parasites

A. rubrum is susseptible to a variety of parasites and diseases. Leaf stalk borers and petiole-borers will bore into the leaf stalk, just below the leaf blade, causing the leaf stalk to shrivel, turn black, and the leaf blade to fall off. Gall mites stimulate round growths/galls to form on leaves which can range in color, including green, red, and black. While galls are not considered serious, they can reach numbers great enough to cause individual leaves to curl up. Anthracnose can cause light brown or tan areas on leaves, but is more common during rainy seasons. Scorching is also common among A. rubrum, especially during windy and high temperatures.[5]

Conservation and Management

Cultivation and restoration

Photo Gallery

References and notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Weakley A. S.(2015). Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Herbarium.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 USDA, NRCS. (2016). The PLANTS Database (, 30 November 2017). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Nesom G. and Moore L. (2006). Plant Guide: Red Maple Acer rubrum L. Baton Rouge, LA: United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Materials Program.
  4. Primack R. B. and McCall C. (1986). Gender variation in a red maple population (Acer rubrum: Aceraceae): A seven-year study of a "Polygamodioecious" species. American Journal of Botany 73(9):1239-1248.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Gilman E. F. and Watson D. G. (1993). Acer rubrum Red Maple. United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Fact Sheet ST-41.
  6. Royer D. L., Meyerson L. A., Robertson K. M., and Adams J. M. (2009). Phenotypic plasticity of leaf shape along a temperature gradient in Acer rubrum. PLoS ONE 4(10):e7653
  7. Lyford W. H. and Wilson B. F. (1964). Development of the root system of Acer rubrum L. Harvard Forest Paper, No. 10, Petersham, MA.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Huddle J. A. and Pallardy S. G. (1999). Effect of fire on survival and growth of Acer rubrum and Quercus seedlings.
  9. Conner W. H. and Askew G. R. (1993). Impact of saltwater flooding on red maple, redbay, and Chinese tallow seedlings. Castanea 58(3):214-219.
  10. Nelson, G. PanFlora: Plant data for the eastern United States with emphasis on the Southeastern Coastal Plains, Florida, and the Florida Panhandle. Accessed: 5 DEC 2017
  11. Harlow W. M., Harrar E. S., Hardin, J. A., and White F. M. (1991). Textbook of dendrology, 7th ed. McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Green D. S. (1980). The terminal velocity and dispersal of spinning samaras. American Journal of Botany 67(8):1218-1224
  13. Peroni P. A. (1994). Seed size and dispersal potential of Acer rubrum (Aceraceae) samaras produced by populations in early and late successional environments. American Journal of Botany 81(11):1428-1434.
  14. Albrecht M. A. and McCarthy B. C. (2006). Effects of prescribed fire and thinning on tree recruitment patterns in central hardwood forests. Forest Ecology and Management 226:88-103.
  15. Batra S. W. T. (1985). Red maple (Acer rubrum L.), an important early spring food resource for honey bees and other insects. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 58(1):169-172.
  16. Myster R. W. and Pickett S. T. A. (1993). Effects of litter, distance, density and vegetation patch type on postdispersal tree seed predation in old fields
  17. Stoler A. B. and Relyea R. A. (2013). Bottom-up meets top-down: leaf litter inputs influence predator-prey interactions in wetlands. Oecologia 173(1):249-257