The Red Maple, or Acer rubrum, Wellfield’s October native plant highlight, is one of the most widespread trees in the country. ‘Acer’ is the genus for all maple trees and ‘rubrum’ is Latin for red. Red maples are well known for their fall color, but there is more to be interested in than the attractive foliage.
A fact I love to bring up to people who are not involved in the botany world is that most plants flower. Some are just more subtle about it. Red maples flower in the Spring and have a red flower color that matches their fall leaves. Maples are wind pollinated and therefore do not require an insect to produce their fruits. The fruits they produce are commonly called ‘helicopters’ because they spin as they fall from the tree, but the more technical name for them is a samara. Some of the samaras seen in the spring time are those of the red maple, and they are easily distinguished due to their unique red color.
Deciduous plants that are stressed will go through their fall colors earlier and drop their leaves earlier than perfectly healthy plants. Unfortunately for us, the land we are on is made up of very alkaline soil, which causes extra stress on many of our plants. Some of our plants are doing better due to efforts of amending some of the soil, but many are still stressed. The upside to this is some of our red maples will change colors a bit early and the healthier trees will change afterwards, giving us two shows. Our most unhealthy red maple out in the garden has yellow leaves during the summer due to the alkaline soil, and it is already turning red.
Hardwood trees that make up the eastern forests of the U.S. have many uses for their wood due to their hardness. Red maple does not have the utility of its cousin, the sugar maple. Various types of furniture and cabinetry are made out of maple, but red maple does not have the strength needed for those uses. The wood is sometimes referred to as “soft maple” because of this lack of strength.
The red maple is native to our area but is also native to about half of North America. It is commonly grown as a street tree in neighborhoods. It gets quite large so it can grow over the road as it branches, unlike smaller trees that need to be pruned to be kept out of the roads and sidewalks. They all get the beautiful red fall leaves, but some cultivars can be columnar, with varying sizes and different leaf color transition times. The specific cultivar you will find the most at Wellfield is Red Sunset. If you get the chance to visit when the leaves begin changing (soon!), you are in for a show!
Cody Hoff, Lead Horticulturist