Red Maple

Acer rubrum

One of the most widespread trees on the East Coast, native across the eastern United States, red maple gets its name from dark red twigs, buds, and flowers and bright scarlet to brick red or pink fruits it develops in spring, but also due to spectacular leaf colors of the orange-red palette it produces in the fall. New England becomes so attractive for tourists during the fall largely due to the performance staged here by red maples. Early in spring they become conspicuous once again, producing those hazy corridors colored subtle burgundy along highways. Red maples flower in April, before their leaves come out. The fruits promptly ripen by the time the leaves grow full size at the end of May. The leaves have three main lobes and sometimes two additional smaller lobes. The bark on the youngest twigs is dark red, then becoming pale gray. Mature trunk bark darkens to nearly black, often exfoliating, its structure very variable. Red maple is a rather tall (to 40-60 ft), fast-growing, adaptable tree that can grow in wide range of environments, although its prime habitats are wetlands. Here it often becomes a forest-forming tree, producing the signature plant communities: red maple swamps. The tree is very tolerant of flooding, although it can grow quite abundantly in drier habitats. Its intensive seedling production along with dense root system often makes it difficult for other plants to compete. Red maple is sometimes exploited for maple syrup, though only on a small scale, as it does not produce as much syrup as sugar maple.

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Twig and buds, February 5, Milton

Flowering at Quincy Quarry, April 21

Ripe fruit, May 23, Dover

Red maple swamp, one of the most common plant communities in Massachusetts