Maple trees are found throughout most of North America. Red maples in particular are common from southern Canada to Florida, and from the eastern coast to eastern Texas. Valuable as mature shade trees and for commercial purposes, the different maple species are planted as specimen trees or in reforestation projects.
Mature red maples have a rounded or oval shape, reaching heights that average between 60 and 90 feet. Red maples are fast growing. When used in landscaping, they will provide color the first year they are planted. The "red" in the name refers to the red buds and flowers that cover the trees in early spring. The red maple flowers are apparent just before the leaves appear; the twigs and leaf petioles (leaf stems) are also red, creating quite a showy period for about two weeks in the spring. Other maples have less noticeable green or yellowish flowers. The fruits of the flowers are the samaras, or the winged seeds. Red maple samaras ripen in the spring.
The fall foliage of a red maple is a deeper red than the more orange-red of a sugar maple. Red maples are one of the earliest trees to bloom and leaf out in the spring, and they are one of the earliest to show autumn color.
Red maple wood is hardwood, and is used in some wood furniture manufacturing. Red maple wood is also used in wood pulp and manufactured wood products. Red maples are common in eastern woodlands, and they are a popular tree for firewood.
Any maple tree sap can be used to make maple syrup or maple sugar. The timing of sap collection plays a part in the flavor and quality of the sap. Red maples are the earliest maples to leaf out in the spring. Since sap for sugar must be collected before this occurs, there is a shorter window for sap collection with red maples than with other species. Red maples still are, however, a valuable commercial maple tree for sugaring, because they grow easily in so many different conditions. Red maples thrive in full sun or shade, dry soil or swampy, poor rocky soil or rich loam.
Red maple leaves are highly toxic to horses. In a fresh, green state, the leaves do not pose a hazard, but wilted leaves undergo chemical changes that can kill a horse with as little as 1 or 2 lb. leaves eaten. Fallen leaves in the autumn are a danger, as are the leaves that blow from trees in a spring or summer storm. A downed branch with wilted leaves also presents a risk of poisoning.
The wilted leaves cause a breakdown in the horse's red blood cells, affecting the oxygen supply to all of the horse's vital organs. Blood transfusions or large amounts of IV fluids may save the horse, depending on how many leaves were eaten and how promptly medical care is given. (Ref 3, 3rd on list)