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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.

  • Family (English) Soapberry (formerly Maple)
  • Family (botanic) Sapindaceae (formerly Aceraceae)
  • Planting site Residential and parks
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • 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
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Clay soil, Occasional flooding, Wet sites
  • Season of interest early spring, early fall, mid fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Red
  • Shape or form Irregular, Oval, Round
  • Growth rate Moderate
  • Transplants well Yes
  • Planting considerations Commonly planted, Intolerant of pollution
  • Wildlife Game mammals, Insect pollinators, Small mammals, Songbirds
  • Has cultivars Yes

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value: 7.  Native to the eastern half of North America.

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: 

The opposite leaves are about 4 inches long and wide.  The leaves are simple, with 3 to 5 lobes and irregularly toothed margins  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:

  Clusters of reddish flowers in early spring (Mar-Apr) . Male flowers are not as intense red as female flowers.  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.

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.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances: 

Verticillium wilt (fungus) is a potential problem for maples, as well as maple bladder gall, and leaf hoppers.  Tolerant of wet sites and black walnut toxicity.

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.

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