Red Maple

Acer rubrum

Description & Overview

Red Maple is a Wisconsin native tree with red fragrant flowers that are among the very first to bloom in the spring. Decorative red samaras appear on female trees shortly after. Emergent leaves, petioles, and twigs are all red or reddish. The fall color is also often a bold red. This tree has been planted in many a front yard and along many a street, and for good reason.

You may also know this tree as Scarlet Maple, Soft Maple, or Swamp Maple.


Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 40-60 feet
Mature Spread: 40-60 feet
Growth Rate: Fast
Growth Form: Tree
Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Site Requirements: Acidic, moist soils. Tolerant of Black Walnut, clay, wet sites, and occasional flooding.
Flower: Red
Bloom Period: Early Spring
Foliage: Green
Fall Color: Yellow, Orange, or Red
Fruit Notes: Samara

Suggested Uses:

This is a common street tree as it adds color, grows quickly (only surpassed by silver maple), and adapts to many soils.

This tree has multiple seasons-interest which lends to its use as an ornamental tree or a specimen tree. Dense foliage and good clearance make it a good shade tree. As a plus, it can also be used to naturalize an area as it is native and does benefit wildlife.

Wildlife Value:

Plenty of animals make use of this Wisconsin native tree. White-tailed Deer browse the stump sprouts through the winter. Moose and elk also browse though not as heavily. Squirrels will chew on bark, twigs, buds, and leaves and use these parts as nesting material. Juncos, nuthatches, turkeys, and other birds will eat the seeds.

As one of the first plants to bloom in the spring Red Maple kick-starts the year for many native bees and honeybees. Rosy maple moth, Cecropia Moth, Retarded Dagger Moth, Polyphemus Moth, the Imperial Moth, and more use it as one of their host plants. Inchworms, Orange-humped Maple Worm, Maple Looper larvae, and more feed on the foliage.

Many cavity nesters such as Pileated Woodpecker, Screech Owl, and Wood Duck will use cavities.

Toxic to cattle and horses.

Maintenance Tips:

Red Maple has a shallow root system. Give plenty of clearance to prevent it from uprooting sidewalks, walkways, and foundations. There are also several pathogens that can infect a Red Maple if the trunk or shallow/exposed root is damaged by lawnmowers, etc. The roots are not only shallow but dense and often crowd out vegetation near the trunk. For these reasons, it would be best to simply make a large mulch ring around the base as it would protect the trunk and cover the bare ground beneath.

Northern Wisconsin is an ideal site for Red Maple, as it has the naturally acidic soil it prefers. We recommend Red Maple for customers that live in “up north,” where it would be best sited. Red Maple is prone to chlorosis when planted in alkaline sites. For our customers in southern Wisconsin, we recommend varieties of Red Maple with better tolerance to alkaline soils, such as ‘Redpointe’ Red Maple, Morgan Red Maple, and Armstrong Gold Red Maple.

Pests/Problems:

Canker and root rot can occur on damaged trunks. Fungal leaf spots can occur. It can get chlorotic if planted in alkaline soils due to a lack of manganese.

Aphids, leafhoppers, borers, scale, and caterpillars can all affect foliage.

Susceptible to Verticillium Wilt.

Red Maple is a soft wood. Wind and ice can break branches.

Leaf Lore:

Name: Acer is Latin for “maple tree”, rubrum means “red.”

  • Red maple is a source of pulpwood, plywood, crates, flooring, and pallets.
  • Early settlers made ink and dyes from the bark. Wood strips can be used to make baskets.
  • It can be tapped to make syrup although Sugar Maple is more often used. If the sap is collected after buds sprout the resulting syrup will taste bitter.
  • Red Maple is the state tree of Rhode Island, which also happens to be home to the largest recorded Red Maple which measures 141 feet tall with a 7-foot diameter.
  • Many cultivars exist. ‘Autumn Radiance’, and ‘Redpointe’ Maples are not only bred for their reliably red fall color but also exhibit many different shapes to suit different needs.
  • Many people come into the nursery and ask for “Red Maple” while what they really are asking for is a maple with red leaves all year round. The Crimson King Maple and the Crimson Sunset Maple are two examples of maples with red/purple foliage in all three seasons. Neither of them are “Red Maples”. Red Maples are a native species with all the attributes stated in the sections above. Read What’s A Red Maple, Anyway?

Companion Plants:

Due to their dense, shallow roots, the best thing would be to have a sufficient mulch ring around the base and leave it at that.

If this is not an option, shade-loving plants with a shallow root system such as Cutleaf Stephanandra, Coralbells, Trevi Fountain Lungwort may work. You may have to experiment and see what might work for you.




johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32
johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32
johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32
johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32