The Red, Water, Swamp or Soft Maple takes its name from its early spring show of red buds and bright red flowers. It has the greatest north-south range of any native tree in North America, being found from Newfoundland to Florida. Although it grows best in damp lowlands soils, it can also be found with other hardwoods on rocky upland soils.
Typically thought of as a medium sized shade tree, the Red Maple grows from 50 to 80 feet but can surpass 100. The bark is an attractive smooth silver turning dark gray and scaly with age. Maple fruits, or winged samaras, emerge with the leaves and can be red or green. Carried by the wind, the samaras float to the ground like tiny helicopters and readily seed themselves.
The leaves are 3to 5 lobed and 3 to 4 inches long with reddish stems. They are a medium green in summer and cast an open-filtered shade. When autumn arrives, few trees brighten the landscape with such dazzling colors. Color varies from tree to tree and can be bright yellows, orange, flame red or any variation in between.
Heavily planted as a street tree, it is also great for lawns and parks, however, cultivars such as “Red Sunset” and “October Glory” are often preferred to guarantee red fall color. Surface roots may present problems in high traffic areas and neatly groomed lawns. Red Maples are also susceptible to sun scald, verticillium wilt, any kind of structural injuries and leaf hopper insects.