Lathrop’s Amazing Red Maples

by Barbara Walvoord

Red maples (Acer rubrum) are so common we might take them for granted.  But in fact, they are amazing, as the US Forest Service reports (http://www.na.fs.fed.us/pubs/silvics_manual/volume_2/acer/rubrum.htm):

Their range is the eastern U.S. and part of Canada, from Nova Scotia to Florida–some 1600 miles.

Red maples grow in locations from  dry ridges to swamps. “They can probably thrive on a wider range of soil types, textures, moisture, pH, and elevation than any other forest species in North America,” says the U.S. Forest Service. Red maple seedlings can develop different root systems: in wet soils, a short tap root with many lateral roots; in dry soils, a long taproot with less lateral growth.

Red maple seeds have a germination rate as high as 91%, and the seedlings are shade tolerant. Thus a maple forest has a huge reserve of small seedlings growing in the shade of the larger trees.  These seedlings will eventually die from lack of sunlight, to be replaced by other seedlings, until one of the large trees falls, so the lucky youngsters in the path of new sunlight can shoot up fast.

And get this: In southeastern Ohio, an 8-acre mature oak-hickory stand, with no red maples, was clearcut. Six years later, the same ground contained more than 900 red maple seedlings per acre. They had winged their way from the few red maples in the nearby forest.

Red maples support the larvae (caterpillars) of  285 species of butterflies and  moths–a banquet for nesting chickadees or bluebirds, which need mostly caterpillars to raise their young (http://www.bringingnaturehome.net/what-to-plant.html).

Red maples are wonderful shade trees, with beautiful spring blossoms and brilliant autumn leaves–and they grow fast. If you live in an east campus cottage, look in your mailbox soon for a chance to plant a native red maple to shade your porch or patio and reduce your summer air conditioning.

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