The red maple is one of the most widely distributed and popular hardwood trees in eastern North America, according to Pennsylvania State University. Homeowners appreciate it for its easy culture, quick growth rate and dependable fall color. This tree's profusion of red flowers, which appear before the leaves, are a welcome sign of spring.
The red maple is a medium to fast grower, growing 10 to 12 feet within 5 to 7 years. At maturity, it stands between 40 to 60 feet tall, with a width of 25 to 30 feet, and a trunk diameter of 1 to 2 feet. The leaves, 2 to 6 inches in diameter, are a dull green above and whitish-green on the underside, and like the leaves of other maple varieties, have three major pointed lobes. A young red maple's bark is light gray and smooth, becoming increasingly ridged with age.
The red maple can be counted on to provide shade for a lawn or at the side of a street in a relatively short time. These trees grow best in areas that are moist, fertile and slightly acidic. Their name comes not from the color of the leaves, but from the buds, which appear on the branches in early spring. The flowers turn into winged, reddish-brown, V-shaped fruits called samara, which are attractive to wildlife.
The red maple is prized mainly for its autumn display, which may be yellow, orange or red, or a combination of these colors. These trees may vary in the intensity of color, and named cultivars have the most reliably colorful fall shades, states the Clemson University Extension. Red maples tend to begin their color change earlier than most other maples.
The red maple has poor resistance to storm damage. Because of its weak limbs, its average life expectancy is relatively short for a hardwood tree, at less than 100 years. Its roots grow close to the surface, so the tree should not be located in a spot where you wish to have grass growing directly underneath, as a lawn mower could damage protruding roots.
Some cultivars which have been bred for particularly attractive fall color are "Autumn Flame," a pyramidically shaped tree with red and orange autumn coloration; "October Glory," with a rounded form and brilliant orange to red leaves which change color later than most maples; and "Columnare," bred to have a narrow pyramidical form with fall coloring of orange to deep red.