Footsteps in the Forest

Red Maple

Acer rubrum

Height: The red maple tree reaches about 40 to 75 feet in height

Evergreen/Deciduous: Deciduous

Lifespan: A relatively short-lived tree that rarely exceeds 80 to 100 years of age

Fall Foliage: True autumn show stopper; the leaves can be red, yellow, or orange, and are often spectacular

Range: Throughout most of the eastern United States, as far west as Texas and Minnesota. Ranges north into southeastern Canada

Typical Habitat: Very common, widespread, and adaptable species found in a variety of habitats; but they are most common and comfortable in low-lying areas with plenty of moisture

red maple tree leaf

Red Maple Trees: A Sub-Climactic Species

Red maple trees occupy an interesting part of the forest-succession spectrum. They’re often classified as a sub-climax species.

As a quick refresher: Forest succession is the process by which forests evolve over time.

Forests begin when a bunch of tiny sun-loving tree seeds germinate in a field. These are typically quick growers, who form a canopy within a few decades. Later, shade-tolerant species begin germinating amid the dappled light of the forest floor.

These slow-and-steady growers eventually out-compete the sun-loving trees. Eventually, they take over the canopy and broader forest, while also suppressing the growth of sun-loving species on the forest floor, courtesy of the shade they create.

The sun-lovers are usually called pioneer species, while the shade-tolerant, slow-growing species are referred to as climax species.

But red maples fall somewhere between these two extremes. Hence the term sub-climactic.

These trees can’t grow as quickly as sun-loving tuliptrees (Liriodendron tulipifera) or pines (Pinus spp.) do, so they aren’t especially awesome colonizers.

However, while they can thrive in the dim light of the forest floor (and therefore aren’t excluded from mature forests), they never dominate the forest for centuries the way many oaks (Quercus spp.) and American beeches (Fagus grandifolia) may. They simply don’t live long enough to do so.

The Red Maple tree: Identification Tips & Tricks

By and large, red maple trees are easy to identify. And given their abundance, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice.

First of all, these trees usually bear three- or five-lobed leaves, which feature serrations around the entire leaf margin. They also have smooth, grey bark while young, which is somewhat reminiscent of a beech tree’s bark.

Further, even though it is deciduous, this species is often somewhat easy to identify year round — just look for the color red.

The flowers introduce bright red twinges to the bleak later winter or early spring landscape, while the seeds and stems continue to contribute red to the landscape throughout the warm season. Once fall arrives, the tree really comes into its own, as it produces glorious fall foliage, typically including at least some leaves that turn red.

The Red Maple Tree: Additional Information

Thirsty for more great info on red maple trees? Check out these high-quality resources that are full of the good stuff.

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