Skip to content

Help us continue to build this resource.

Acer rubrum

Red maple, Swamp, Water or Soft maple

Plant Details

Common Name: Red maple, Swamp, Water or Soft maple
Family: Sapindaceae
Mature Height: over 50'
Sun Requirement: Sun, Sun to part shade, Part shade to shade
Moisture Requirement: Medium - moist, Moist
Flower Color: Red
Bloom Time: Spring (May or earlier)
Seed Collection Date: Spring (May – June)

Acer rubrum red maple
Acer rubrum red maple
Acer rubrum red maple
Acer rubrum red maple
Acer rubrum red maple

Click on images to view larger versions


Acer is Latin for fierce, sharp, pungent, bitter. Rubrum is latin for red.

Native Habitat

Forest edges, forests, meadows and fields, shores of rivers or lakes, swamps, edges of wetlands, woodlands.

Garden Uses

An attractive and adaptable shade tree with a striking red autumn leaf display. The red flowers, fruit and young twigs are also very showy. Young trees have smooth, silvery gray bark which provides winter interest. Underplant with ferns and herbaceous species early in the maple's growth because the roots will form a dense, fibrous network as the tree develops, often preventing other plants from growing near its trunk.


One of the most abundant and widespread of the eastern North American hardwood trees. Red maple takes its common name from its reddish buds that swell in spring, its red leaf petioles in summer, and its brilliant red foliage in fall. Red maple is fast growing and will tolerate a very wide range of soils, from clay to sandy loam ultimately becoming a large tree with a narrow or rounded compact crown. It grows 40-60 ft. in cultivation, occasionally reaching 100 ft. in the wild. Fall foliage is quite variable, ranging from the brilliant red for which the species is known, to yellow or greenish-yellow. Hardiness Zones 3-9.

Leaves and Stems

Leaves are opposite and palmately lobed, which means they resemble the shape of a hand with three to five lobes that extend in a fingerlike fashion from a central point. Red maple leaves are more toothed than sugar maple leaves, which have smoother edges and the sinuses between the lobes are V-shaped rather than U-shaped for sugar maple. Red maple leaves are green above and a light greenish white on the underside, and turn brilliant red in autumn. The leaf stalk and twigs also have a reddish color.


Small, hanging clusters of bright red flowers appear in early spring (March-April) before the leaves. Red maples can produce all male flowers, all female flowers, or some of both. Male flowers have long stamens that extend beyond the petal and are covered in yellow pollen at the tips. In the female flower it is the stigma that extends past the petals, ready to catch pollen.


Female flowers produce red double samaras (winged seeds) that disperse in the spring before the leaves are fully developed. Samaras usually ripen in late spring and early summer and contain an enclosed seed at the base of the wing. In contrast, sugar maple samaras are green in the spring and hang on until the fall.

Animal Associates

Considered “pollinator powerhouses”, red maples support the life cycles of approximately 285 species of butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera), 68 species of inchworms (Geometridae), as well as a wide variety of bees and songbirds. Native maples provide food for several caterpillar species that eat nothing else. Planting native maples will enable the rosy maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda), the oval-based prominent (Peridea basitriens), the retarded dagger moth (Aronicta rubicoma), the orange-humped maple worm (Symmerista leucitys), the maple looper (Parallel bistriaris), and the Baltimore bomolocha (Bomolocha Baltimoralis) to exist where they otherwise could not. Young trees provide browse for deer, moose and many other mammals. A number of birds build nests in Red Maples, including American Redstarts, Black-backed Woodpeckers, and Downy Woodpeckers. Woodpeckers and other insect eating songbirds often search for the many insects that feed on maples; important in feeding young nestlings.


Seeds mature in early summer and will germinate without pretreatment although treatment will hasten and unify germination. As soon as samaras turn yellowish or reddish brown and the seeds inside are firm, filled out, and dark brown. Best to gather from the tree as seeds that have already dropped lose viability quickly and are easily infested. They need very little light for germination. Keep in cold, moist storage. Stratify 60-75 days at 41 degrees or use a cold water soak for 2-5 days. Softwood cuttings root readily with hormone.

Ethnobotanical Uses

The Red Maple was used by various Native American tribes to make spoons, arrow heads, baskets, and bowls. Native Americans also used the sap to make sugar, syrup and for medicinal purposes, though red maples yield smaller quantities of sap than sugar maples. Pioneers made ink and cinnamon-brown and black dyes from a bark extract.

Garden Location

Reflection Garden, Teaching Garden, West Woods, South Woods, North Woods (see garden map)


Arbor Day Foundation

Douglas W. Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, (Timber Press, 2007), p. 170

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Project

National Wildlife Federation

Native Plant Trust

University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Virginia Tech Dendrology

Wild Adirondacks

Plant Profile by Rachel Emus and Ivonne Vazquez