The reds are the most "common" of our 13 native maples. They
range from southern Canada to Texas and Florida, and west to the
Mississippi. They're the dominant overstory tree where
conditions suit, and because of the red maple's flexibility,
conditions suit it more often than any other native tree. Unlike
the invasive Norways, the reds "play nicely with others",
helping to sustain a diversified forest.
In New England, red maples like damper conditions and are
known as "swamp maples"; further south they prefers drier, often
rocky, uplands. They are said to grow faster than the Norway and
sugar maples but slower than the silvers and box elders. Red
maples make great yard and "street trees" as long as the soil
(and local pollutants) are not high PH.
Red and silver maples produce maple syrup (albeit not in the
quality or quantity of the sugar maples), pulp, lumber, shade,
and leaves good for composting. While red maples are said to be
deathly poisonous to horses, they are an important winter food
for rabbits, deer and moose.
In the Northeast, the maples you're most likely to see are
the native reds, sugars and silvers, and the imported sycamores
(not sycamore trees, sycamore maples ), Norways and Japanese.
They turn color in this order: sugars, reds, Norways, silvers,
Each maple variety has distinctive features but since North
America's blessed with many, many maple trees, there's a lot of
variation, including confusing "cross-overs". For example, one
hallmark of the red maple is red leaf stems but Norways and
sycamore maples also sometime have this feature. (So, don't
feel bad if you can identify most maples, most of the time; but
not all of the maples all of the time.)
The pictured maple is a classic red: red leaf stems; small,
three-lobed, toothed leaves, with the lobes pointing forward;
and leaves turning multi-colored in the fall (they often look
calico). The tree also has the classic smooth gray bark of a red
maple; the bark often develops deep vertical furrows with age.
Red Maple along the Mill River with 5-lobed leaves showing the
classic characteristics of a young, smooth trunk and an older,
The leaves of Norway, sugar and red maples can
look very similar. The reds have notched sinuses between the
lobes, the sugars and silvers have U-shaped sinuses, and the
Norways tend to look like the webbing of a duck's foot.
if in doubt, look for the bud clusters. The only native
maples with buds in clusters, rather than pairs, are the reds
and the silvers. You can usually tell the two apart because the
silvers have very shaggy bark and 5-pointed, deep cut, lacy