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

Varieties: 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: Rufacer rubrum (Linnaeus); Rufacer carolinianum (Walter).[1]


A. rubrum is an oval shaped deciduous perennial tree that can reach heights of 60 to 75 ft (18.3-22.9 m) with a spread of 25 to 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, and serrated margins.[4] 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).[5] The leaves have palmate venation and are arranged opposite or sub-opposite. During the spring and summer the leaves are green, but in the fall they change to orange, red, and yellow before falling from the tree.

A. rubrum is classified as polygamodioecious, meaning the population is a mixture of dioecious (separate male and female trees), monoecious (separate male and female flowers on the same tree), and bisexual (flowers with both male and female organs on the same flower) individuals.[6] The flowers are red and produce an elongated red fruit of 1 to 3 in (2.5-7.6 cm) in length with a dry, hard covering.[4] Roots are primarily horizontal, being found in the upper 9.8 in (0.25 m) of soil.[7]


A. rubrum occurs throughout 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. It can also be found in parts of Oregon and eastern Canada.[2]



A. rubrum has been observed in a variety of habitats including hardwood-cypress swamps, swampy woodlands, hammocks, wooded ravines and slopes, along shorelines, floodplain forests, mesic woodlands, and beech-magnolia deciduous forests,[8] but is most abundant in bottom lands. .[3] These trees are known to quickly establish in areas disturbed by fire, logging, and agriculture, and are 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][9] and areas where saltwater inundation can occur[10], and was found to respond negatively to clearcutting and chopping in a flatwoods forest in northeast Florida.[11]

Acer rubrum is frequent and abundant in the Calcareous Savannas community type as described in Carr et al. (2010).[12]


A. rubrum has been observed to flower between January and April[3][13] 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.[14] As the seed falls from the tree, the samara rotates producing lift and limiting the terminal velocity of the seed.[15] Distances seeds travel is highly correlated with wing loading potentials, a seeds initial height, and the velocity of the wind.[15][16]

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 fire intolerant species, although it typically resprouts.[3][9] 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. [17] Populations of Acer rubrum persist through repeated annual burns.[18]


Acer 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).[19].[20]

Herbivory and toxicology

Seeds of A. rubrum are consumed by many different species of squirrels, birds, and other mammals.[4] Depredation of seeds tend to increase with the age of old field habitat and is higher in woody habitats compared to herbaceous habitats.[21]

A. rubrum can also influence ecological interactions of newts and frogs through the effects of its leaf litter on water quality.[22]

Diseases and parasites

A. rubrum is susceptible 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.[4]

Scorching is also common among A. rubrum, especially during high wind and temperatures.[4]

Conservation, cultivation and restoration

Cultivars include 'Armstrong', 'Autumn Flame', 'Bowhall', 'Gerling', 'October Glory', 'Red Sunset', 'Scanlon', 'Schlesinger', and 'Tilford'. These cultivars range in fall leaves color, overall tree height, and regional adaptations. A hybrid cross between Red and Silver Maple named Hybrid Maple is available (Acer x fremanii) with cultivars including 'Armstrong', 'Autumn Blaze', 'Celebration', 'Celzam', and 'Scarlet Sentenial'.[4]

Cultural use

Maples have long been an excellent source of sugar, sap, and syrup. This particular species does not produce the highest yields, but is still a useful source of these sweet products. Sugaring used to be an event in the spring in early America. People would go out and collect the sweet resources from the maple trees for use as treats, syrup, and sugar.[23]

Native Americans would use the bark to make bread flour, and the Kalmyk people would harvest and cook the seeds to eat.[23]

Photo gallery

References and notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Weakley, A.S. 2020. Flora of the Southeastern United States. Edition of 20 October 2020. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 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 3.8 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. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Gilman E. F. and Watson D. G. (1993). Acer rubrum Red Maple. United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Fact Sheet ST-41.
  5. 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
  6. 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.
  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. Florida State University Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium database. URL: Last accessed: February 2019. Collectors: J. Allen, Loran C. Anderson, Leon Bates, S. Bennett, Max Brown, Kurt E. Blum, Stanley A. Cain, C. C. Christensen, R. F. Christensen, Michael Cousens, Kathy Craddock Burks, Sterling Clawson, M. Darst, Delzie Demaree, R. F. Doren, Wilbur H Duncan, Donna Marie Eggers, Patricia Elliot, Wm. H. Ellis, Angus Gholson, J. P. Gillespie, Robert K. Godfrey, Harry Heady, Mary G. Henry, Poltorak Hoffman, W. C. Holmes, Clarke Hudson, Mike Jenkins, S. B. Jones, S. B. Jones, Jr., Walter S. Judd, J. R. Kenemuth, A. C. Koelling, R. Komarek, Gary R. Knight, Robert Kral, H. Kurz, O. Lakela, S. W. Leonard, H. Light, S. J. Lombardo, Wayne D. Longbottom, Sidney McDaniel, Jay T. McMannes, J. Richard Moore, W. C. Muenscher, M. Nee, John B. Nelson, Kevin Oakes, John C. Ogden, P. L. Redfearn, Jr., L. L. Reese, William Reese, Dale Samler, Cecil R Slaughter, John W. Thieret, R. E. Torrey, J. N. Triplett, Jr., L. B. Trott, Daniel B. Ward, David Webb, R. L. Wilbur, and D. R. Windler. States and counties: Florida: Baker, Calhoun, Columbia, Dixie, Duval, Escambia, Flagler, Franklin, Gadsden, Hamilton, Hernando, Hillsborough, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Marion, Martin, Okaloosa, Orange, Osceola, Santa Rosa, St Johns, Suwannee, Taylor, Volusia, Wakulla, Walton, and Washington. Georgia: Brooks, Clarke, De Kalb, Grady, Oglethorpe, Rabun, Stephens, Thomas, and Upson. Alabama: Colbert, Houston, Jefferson, Limestone, Madison, and Monroe. Massachusetts: Hampshire and Norfolk. New Jersey: Burlington and Morris. South Carolina: Allendale and Newberry. Louisiana: Evangeline, St James, Union, and Vernon. Tennessee: Blount, Knox, and Sumner. New York: Orange and Yates. Virginia: Dickenson and Montgomery. North Carolina: Clay, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Madison, and Wake. Missouri: Douglas and Wayne. Mississippi: Forrest, Harrison, Jackson, and Marion. Arkansas: Newton and Washington. Maryland: Baltimore and Dorchester. Minnesota: St Louis. Michigan: Emmet. Pennsylvania: Clarion. Wisconsin: Richland.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Huddle J. A. and Pallardy S. G. (1999). Effect of fire on survival and growth of Acer rubrum and Quercus seedlings.
  10. 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.
  11. Moore, W.H., B.F. Swindel, and W.S. Terry. 1982. Vegetative response to clearcutting and chopping in a north Florida flatwoods forest. Journal of Range Management 35:214-218.
  12. Carr, S.C., K.M. Robertson, and R.K. Peet. 2010. A vegetation classification of fire-dependent pinelands of Florida. Castanea 75:153-189.
  13. 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
  14. Harlow W. M., Harrar E. S., Hardin, J. A., and White F. M. (1991). Textbook of dendrology, 7th ed. McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Green D. S. (1980). The terminal velocity and dispersal of spinning samaras. American Journal of Botany 67(8):1218-1224
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. Robertson, K.M. Unpublished data collected from Pebble Hill Fire Plots, Pebble Hill Plantation, Thomasville, Georgia.
  19. Batra S. W. T. (1985). A. rubrum is an important early spring food resource for honey bees and other insects. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 58(1):169-172.
  20. [1]
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. 23.0 23.1 Fernald, et al. 1958. Edible Plants of Eastern North America. Harper and Row Publishers, New York.