Scientific name: Acer
The red maple, like its close relative the silver maple, is sometimes called the "swamp maple" or the "soft maple". These names summarize significant features of the ecology and the physical nature of these trees. The red maple is quite possibly the most common and the most widely distributed hardwood tree in eastern North America. It is especially found in the wet soils along streams and in swampy areas and has a dense, shallow root system well adapted to the poor soil aeration properties of these sites. It can also, however, grow abundantly in well-drained, upland and even rocky soils. The soft nature of its wood (although it is stronger than the wood of the silver maple) can lead to weakness in its limbs and trunk that can contribute to its relatively short expected life span of typically less than one hundred years.
The red maple is a medium sized tree ranging from fifty to seventy feet tall at maturity with a trunk one to two feet in diameter. Its crown is irregular or rounded and is highlighted by reddish colored terminal twigs. Its leaves are two to six inches in diameter and are often nearly as wide as they are long. The leaves have three major, short pointed lobes that are dull green above and whitish-green below. The leaves turn a bright red in the fall after frost. The red maple's bark is light gray and smooth on young trees becoming increasingly furrowed and plate-like on older trees.
Flowers, Fruit and
The red maple has been planted in urban areas very extensively. It is a common and important ornamental and shade tree around many homes and along many streets and roadways. The rapid growth, dense canopy and beautiful autumn color display make the red maple a very poplar urban species. Its abundant production of spring samara, the brittleness of its branches and its relatively short life expectancy, however, are major landscaping drawbacks to this species.
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