Our Red Maple tree, Acer rubrum, is found at the edge of Bayne Park along Teece Avenue. The U.S. Forest Service recognizes the Red Maple as one of the most widely distributed trees in eastern North America.
Identifying a maple tree is relatively simple as most of us are familiar with maple leaves from seeing the labels on authentic maple syrup. Even though different types of maple trees have some differences in their overall leaf shape, the general form of a maple leaf is the same.
Another helpful identification clue beyond the form of the leaf is the way the branches and leaves grow. On most trees, branches and leaves form alternately so they are not directly across form each other. Maple trees have branches and leaves that form directly opposite of each other, which you can see in the image above.
MADCap Horse is a helpful mnemonic device to remember which trees and shrubs typically have opposite branching. [M=Maple] [A=Ash] [D=Dogwood] [Cap=Caprifoliaceae family which consists mostly of shrubs and vines] [Horse=Horse Chestnut and Buckeyes]
The coarse-toothed shallow-lobed leaves are vibrant green above and greyish-green below.
Each leaf attaches to the twig with long petioles, which can sometimes show reddish coloration. The newly formed twigs can also be reddish with tiny red buds.
A closer look at the underside of a leaf reveals structures resembling hairs that insulate the leaf by keeping frost away from delicate plant cells, reduce evaporation by shielding the leaf from heat and wind, and even provide protection from some herbivorous insects.
The bark is rough with long layers of vertical strips which tend to remain fastened at the middle but can become detached and curl on the upper and lower edges.
Red Maples are among the first trees to flower in the Spring with dense clusters of red flowers appearing in late March to early April before the leaves appear. The flowers are highly visible to insect pollinators and easily wind pollinated as leaves are not present to cause obstruction. The flowers (female above, male below) can be seen on the right side of the botanical drawing above. Although small, these flowers reward closer viewing and are extravagantly showy.
Red Maple trees can produce all male flowers, all female flowers, or some of both. The long stamens of the male flowers extend past the petals with dusty yellow pollen covering the tips. The female flower’s two stigmas extend beyond the petals to catch pollen traveling in the wind or from the bodies of flying insects so that it can produce the fruit containing the seeds shown in the image below.
It may seem bizarre that these flat papery parts are considered fruit, but fruits are just plant parts that hold seeds.
Maple seeds are heavy and would not be able to float aloft in the breeze in a feathery coating like other lighter seeds. The tree equips the fruit containing the seed with wings to help the heavy seed disperse. Known to most people as helicopters, whirlybirds, or whirligigs, they are technically samaras. Before the leaves fully develop in the Spring, the samaras take flight and when they land the seeds quickly germinate. Rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks readily consume any seeds they have the fortune of finding during the brief window of time prior to germination.
The most vibrant Autumn leaf colors are typically produced after favorable conditions consisting of a series of warm sunny days with crisp cool nights. When envisioning the Autumn foliage of a Red Maple most imagine the leaves of this tree as only turning brilliant red, but surprisingly they can also presents a diverse palette of color ranging from pale yellow, to orange, to maroon.
This strange patterns on the Red Maple leaf in the image below are called eyespot galls, which are a deformity in plant tissue caused by Maple Eyespot Gall Midges. The small female adult fly lays its eggs in the in the underside surface of Red Maple leaves. Midge larvae hatch, quickly develop, and produce a growth regulating-hormone which causes bright red and yellow rings to form around a gall on the leaf. The midge larva grows inside the gall and then drops to the ground to pupate in the soil to transform into an adult. The rings of the maple eyespot galls remain on the leaf, eventually turning brown.
The female Rosy Maple Moth in the image above by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren can lay up to two-hundred eggs in small groupings on the underside of Red Maple leaves during the warmer months. The tiny caterpillars emerge and feed on maple leaves. The caterpillars are an early Spring food source for birds.
The wood of the Red Maple is fine-grained and pale. It is used for flooring, cabinetry, paneling, veneer, furniture, musical instruments, butcher blocks, boxes, crates, and tool handles.
Sap from the Sugar Maple tree is typically used to produce maple syrup as the sugar content is high, but Red Maple can also be tapped and the sap can be boiled to make syrup. The sugar content of Red Maple sap is much lower so the endeavor requires a larger volume of sap, and increased boiling time.
The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors by David George Haskell is delightful. The author visits a dozen trees from all around the world to explore and observe the trees’ connections and he eloquently shares his detailed and intimate observations. I was hooked when I read his description of the susurration of wind through maple leaves as being sandy and light.
If you are looking at leaves and interested in identifying strange protrusions and patterns, this book contains fascinating information on insect galls. Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates: a Guide to North American Species by Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney.
Children will love Red Leaf Yellow Leaf as Lois Ehlert created clever multimedia collages using pieces of actual seeds, roots, fabric, and wire to accompany the text explaining the life of a maple tree.
Learn more about all the Trees of Bayne Park and explore our Interactive Bayne Park Tree Map to see the locations, photographs, and names of over a dozen different species of trees. Be sure to also visit our Treesources page to learn about local trees, caring for trees, and more.
Written by Linda, Spring 2020