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Red maple

Red maple in full fall color.

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 needs plenty of room for its dense, spreading root system. Fall color can be yellow rather than red, so select a cultivar bred for red fall color.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. 

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

Botanical name:

Acer rubrum

All common names:

red maple, swamp maple, scarlet maple

Family (English):

Soapberry (formerly Maple)

Family (Botanic):

Sapindaceae (formerly Aceraceae)

Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Shade tree,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)

Mature Height:

40-60 feet

Mature Width:

35-45 feet

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 3,
  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Acid soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Wet sites,
  • Occasional flooding,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Clay soil

Acid Soils:

  • Prefers

Alkaline Soils:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Salt Spray:

  • Intolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Intolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Intolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Tolerant

Planting Considerations:

  • Commonly planted,
  • Intolerant of pollution

Ornamental Interest:

  • Fall color,
  • Showy fruit

Seasons of Interest:

  • early spring,
  • early fall,
  • mid fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Red

Shape or Form:

  • Irregular,
  • Oval,
  • Round

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate

Transplants Well:

  • Yes


  • Game mammals,
  • Insect pollinators,
  • Small mammals,
  • Songbirds

More Information:

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.
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.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Opposite;  most leaves about 4 inches long and wide.
Simple, 3 to 5 lobes, irregularly toothed, with 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.  flowers provide mild interest.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

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

Cultivars and their differences 

These plants are cultivars of a species that is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits.

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.

Armstrong Gold red maple (Acer rubrum 'KW78'):  An improvement on 'Armstrong', this upright cultivar is very narrow at 40 feet high and 12 feet wide.  The fall color is gold to orange.  Good for narrow street planting sites.

Brandywine red maple (Acer rubrum 'Brandywine'):   40 feet high and 30 feet wide; oval form; male cultivar (seedless); deep red fall color; resistant to leafhopper.

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

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


Location of Acer rubrum (Red maple) at the Arboretum