Thursday, October 9, 2008

Red Maple

Young red maple tree in our front yard. The leaves are just starting to change color.

In the woods, the leaves are a lot redder already!

Red maple trees are probably the second most common plant near us. The scientific name is Acer rubrum. These trees should not be mistaken for the Japanese maple that have red leaves year round. Red maples have red leaf buds and flowers in spring, the smaller branches have a red hue, and the leaves turn red in autumn, but for most of the summer the leaves are green.

Like poison ivy, red maple is native to North America and is very widespread. It is native in most areas including higher elevations, and although it is not native on the west coast, it has been introduced there as an ornamental tree. Also like poison ivy, it is also more common now than it was in previous centuries.

The red maple is fairly easy to identify. Like all maples the leaves are attached to the branches directly opposite each other instead of alternately. The stems of the leaves are usually red. The leaves have the typical maple shape and are whitish on the bottom side. In the spring, they are one of the first trees to bud and then get leaves, and of course, the buds and flowers have the noticable red color.

A couple if interesting facts about red maples. They are sometimes tapped for sap to boil into maple syrup. Although there is no flavor difference between red maple syrup and sugar maple syrup because the red maple leaves earlier it has a shorter sap season and is therefore less desirable to use for this purpose. Also, red maple leaves are toxic to horses.

1. poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
2. red maple (Acer rubrum)

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