Red Maple

The red maple (Acer rubrum) is the most common and widespread tree in the eastern US and Canada. Red maple is found in nearly every type of ecological community from moderately swampy areas and bottomlands to dry, rocky ridge tops and all points in between. The species has certain adaptations that help it thrive under most conditions.

The maple seed can germinate in open sunny areas or deep forest shade. The young trees grow quickly out in the sun or they can persist indefinitely in the forest understory until the canopy is opened and they are “released” to grow into the overstory. Red maples can attain a large size and are fairly long-lived; trees can grow up to 125 feet tall and live in excess of 300 years. Red maples have highly variable physical characteristics; the root systems can develop a deep taproot when they are growing in dry areas or a superficial root system in wetter areas. The tree can grow in a wide range of soil pH ranges, doing well in both acid and alkaline soils. The red maple is a tree that can grow faster with increased CO2 levels and increases in temperature, traits that will allow it to thrive during global warming trends.

Historically, red maples made up a small part of pre-colonial forests, but numbers have increased dramatically due in part to increased atmospheric CO2 levels, the suppression of forest fires, and selective logging events that removed more valuable trees like oaks and ash and retained the maple. This tree usually produces an abundant seed crop each year, and these wind borne “samaras” can travel fairly large

distances. The maple’s diversity of genetic and physical traits has also resulted in this tree being used extensively as an ornamental, with hundreds of known cultivars. If there was ever a tree whose motto was “go with the flow”, it would be the red maple.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 10/3/2010