Red maple grows up to 20 m tall, usually with a narrow compact crown, and may occur singly or in a clump of stems that resprouted from a single stump after cutting or fire. Young bark is smooth, thin, and gray; older trees develop furrowed bark with scaly or even shaggy ridges. Leaves are deciduous, opposite, with blades 6-10 cm long and usually about as wide, with 3 to 5 shallow short-pointed and serrate or toothed lobes. Flowers are pink to red, in fascicles (clusters) or drooping racemes. Individual trees are monoecious (male and female flowers on separated trees) or bisexual (male and female flowers on the same tree, or segregated by branches within the tree—technically polygamo-dioecious). Fruits are paired samaras (winged nutlets) 2-2.5 cm long, clustered on long stalks.
Red maple is one of the most widely distributed trees in eastern North America (see distribution map). It tolerates a wide variety of soil types and site conditions, ranging from swamps and poorly drained soils to drier uplands, savannas, sandy dunes, and barrens (Barnes and Wagner 2004, Burns and Honkala 1990, Michigan Flora Online 2011). It is widely planted as a shade tree and in parks, with more than 50 cultivars that vary in leaf shape, fall color, and tree form (Van Geldrin et al. 2010). It has various timber uses, can yield maple syrup (but less than sugar maple), and was used by Native Americans and pioneers for medicinal and other purposes.
One of the many Red Maple trees that grow around our school yard.