Autumn Blaze Red Maple (Acre rubrum ‘Autumn Blaze’)

The red maple is named for its red flowers, red fruit, red twigs, and—of course—its brilliant red fall foliage. Autumn sightseers of the eastern deciduous forest praise the red maple for its striking scarlet leaves. Few people know that red maple foliage can turn yellow or orange in the fall too. Red maples are fast-growing trees that usually reach 60 to 90 feet (18 to 27 meters) in height. The largest ones can grow more than 120 feet (36.5 meters) tall.

Red maples are native to the eastern deciduous forest. They’re found from Maine west to Minnesota, south to Texas, and east to Florida. In the southernmost parts of their range, red maples are a wetland species, which has earned them the nickname “swamp maple.”

Red maples are perhaps the most abundant tree in the eastern deciduous forest. This status can be attributed to the tree’s generalist tendencies. A generalist species is one that can tolerate a wide range of habitat conditions and uses many different types of resources. Red maples do well in sunny or shady spots, dry or wet soil, and high or low elevation.

Small red flowers appear on red maples early in spring from March to April, and the fruit develops from April to June. Red maple fruits, called samaras, look much different from the typical fruits that people eat. Samaras have an enclosed seed at one end and a thin, dry, winglike projection at the other. Many people refer to them as helicopters or whirlybirds because the “wing” makes them spin when they fall from the tree. 

By tree standards, red maples don’t live very long. The average lifespan is only 80 to 100 years. The oldest ones may reach 200 years of age, but this is extremely rare. However, red maples can start producing seeds at just four years old.

Red Maple Facts

  • Scientific name: Acer rubrum
  • Other names: scarlet maple, swamp maple
  • Range: across most of the Eastern U.S.
  • Height: up to 65 feet tall
  • Fruit: winged seed pods, or samaras, whose whirling enables them to travel farther in the wind
  • Fall colors: leaves turn yellow and deep red

If Trees Could Sing…

Click here to hear Jerry Douglas talk about one of his favorite treesVideo courtesy of The Nature Conservancy and Jerry Douglas.