The red maple tree, Acer rubrum, is a common tree native to North America. Deciduous in nature, the red maple is distinguished for its bright, fiery red fall foliage. Useful for a variety of ornamental and commercial purposes, the red maple has a variety of interesting features.
Red maple trees are tolerant to a variety of conditions. There is no one specific soil type, moisture requirement or sunlight need. The red maple is found on dry ridgetops and moist stream banks. Red maple can be found growing all across North America, except for the coldest and hottest portions or areas where wildfires are common, such as the prairie peninsula in the midwestern U.S.
One of the most easily distinguishable features of the red maple is the foliage. Leaves are generally 3 to 6 inches wide. The leaves are triangular and marked with three to five pointed lobes. The leaf margins are serrated, bearing deep teeth between the lobes. In spring and summer, the leaves are a vivid, shiny green on top and a duller, pale green beneath. Autumnal foliage can be orange-red to deep scarlet.
Red maple trees are grown for their attractive foliage. Used commercially for its wood, it is one of the softer maples and is used in conjunction with other maples for furniture-making. Red maple is also used in the production of maple syrup, but is less favored than its cousins, the silver maple and black maple. The initial quality and sweetness of all syrup-producing maples is similar, but red maple begins to bud earlier in the season. When the tree buds, the chemical makeup of the trees changes and the syrup turns sour as the new tree buds use the stored up energy, or sugars, to grow.
Red maple trees grow quickly. They frequently reach heights of up to 70 feet, but specimens exist that have grown upward of 115 feet. The trunks of red maple trees are 2 to 3 feet in diameter. Red maple trees rarely live longer than 150 years, making them one of the shorter-lived trees in comparison with most endemic North American species.
Red maple, while beautiful, should not be planted in areas where horses graze. The red maple tree presents equines with an unknown toxin. The exact toxin is unknown, but the method is apparent. Only 1 1/2 lbs. of leaves need to be ingested by an adult for toxic effects to occur, with 3 lbs. being fatal. The unknown toxin damages the horse's red blood cells, causing hemolytic anemia and a lack of proper oxygen in the horse's body. Any horse that has ingested more than 1 lb. of red maple leaves has only a 50 percent chance of survival, according to "Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians."