Monday, October 17, 2011

Red Maples -- © Dave Spier

Red Maple reflection beside Bear Mtn. trail, Cranberry Lake, NY - © Donna Mason-Spier
The Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is a widespread eastern species growing from Florida and the Gulf states to the Canadian Maritimes and southern Ontario Province. In the South it is referred to "swamp" maple when it grows in the bottomlands. In the Northeast it is one of several "soft" maples (in comparison to the Sugar Maple which has "harder" wood). It is common in the Adirondacks on the lower slopes below 3000' where it mixes with Yellow Birch and conifers. It grows in poorly-drained areas as well as sandy soil poor in nutrients.

The Red Maple's leaves have three or sometimes five lobes with saw-toothed edges. The notches between lobes are fairly shallow and the center lobe is usually broader at the base and tapers to a point. In the summer, when the wind flips the leaves over, you'll notice they are whiter underneath - just like their close cousin, the Silver Maple. Red Maple leaves turn red in autumn, but the tree's name also refers to red leaf stems and red flowers in spring. The twigs, buds and seeds are also reddish.

Red Maple leaves in the Wilmington Notch area - © Dave Spier

When we were in Keene Valley in ealy October, there was a clearly-delineated horizontal band of redder foliage across the mountain slopes. This color change works its way to lower elevations in sync with falling temperatures.  Visit the D.E.C. website for more on Why Leaves Change Color. [bold blue type indicates a link]

Red Maple bark is light-gray and smooth on young trees, becoming darker, ridged and scaly with age. At the transition phase, the bark may show what I call large "thumbprint" patterns.

You can tap Red Maples in late winter, but the sap's sugar content is lower than either Sugar Maple or Silver Maple.

Red Maple beside the Moose River from Thendara's Green Bridge - © Dave Spier

Questions may be sent to

detail from photo of Red Maple beside the Moose River - © Dave Spier

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