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TREES & Plants

Red maple

Red maple is a widely adaptable large tree common to the woods of eastern North America. A red tinge can be found in its flowers, twigs, and seeds, but it is most notable for the scarlet of its leaves in fall. Red maple is relatively tolerant of the pollution and road salt found in cities and suburbs, but like many other maples, it needs plenty of room for its dense, spreading root system. Fall color can be yellow rather than red, so selct a cultivar bred for red fall color.

Botanical name: 
Acer rubrum
All Common Names: 
Red maple, swamp maple, scarlet maple
Family (English): 
Soapberry (formerly Maple)
Family (Botanic): 
Sapindaceae (formerly Aceraceae)
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (foliage falls off)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
  • Zone 9
Growth Rate: 
  • Medium
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun (4-6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial shade (4-6 hrs indirect light daily)
Tolerances: 
  • Wet sites
  • Occasional flooding
  • Road salt
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil
  • Moist, well-drained soil
  • Wet soil
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Red
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
Shape or Form: 
  • Oval
  • Pyramidal
  • Rounded
Landscape Uses: 
  • Windbreak
  • Specimen
  • Shade
  • Parkway/street
Time of Year: 
  • Early spring
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
More Information: 

Size and Form

40 to 50 feet high and 35 to 45 feet wide; oval, pyramidal or rounded in shape

Tree & Plant Care

Chlorosis symptoms (pale green leaves with dark green veins) can be a problem in high pH soil and drought conditions.
Maples are considered 'bleeders' and are best pruned in early winter or during summer.
Although a good parkway or street tree, red maple does not tolerate heavy pollution.

Disease, pests, and problems

Verticillium wilt (fungus) is a potential problem for maples; maple bladder gall, leaf hoppers

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of wet sites and black walnut toxicity

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 7

Bark color and texture 

Mature bark is dark-gray with vertical, scaly plates. Young trees have smooth gray bark.

Red maple (Acer rubrum)
Red maple (Acer rubrum)
photo: John Hagstrom
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Opposite, most leaves about 4 inches long and wide
Simple, 3 to 5 lobes, irregularly toothed, red stalks
Leaves emerge with red tinge but deepen to dark green. Fall color varies by cultivar from red to yellow to orange.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Red petaled clusters in early spring (Mar-Apr) . Male flowers not as intense red as female.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fruit are winged seeds in pairs (samaras), about 1 to 2 inches long, ripens in spring.
Color can be red to brown.

Cultivars and their differences 

Note: There is much confusion in the nursery trade about red maples and the hybrids of Freeman maple, which is a red maple and silver maple cross.

Autumn Flame (Acer rubrum 'Autumn Flame'):  50 to 60 feet high and 20 to 25 feet wide; densely rounded shape and red to yellow fall color

Bowhall  (Acer rubrum 'Bowhall'):  40 to 50 feet high and 10 to 15 feet wide; symmetrical, upright-narrow shape with late orange-red fall color

October Glory  (Acer rubrum 'October Glory'):  40 to 60 feet high and 20 to 25 feet wide; rounded to oval shape,  female (red tinged seeds), orange-red fall color

Redpointe®  (Acer rubrum 'Frank Jr.'): 40 to 50 feet high and 25 to 30 feet wide; pyramidal shape with brilliant red fall color

Red Sunset®   (Acer rubrum 'Franksred'):  40 to 50 feet high and 25 to 35 feet wide; pyramidal to rounded form, striking red fall color