Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Red maples in Florida

A large clump of maple seeds. It readily reseeds.

Red maples are versatile trees

The red maple (Acer rubrum) is native to most of Florida and its range also includes almost all of eastern North America including Canada. According to the U.S. Forest Service, it's one of the most abundant trees in this range, because it grows well in a wide variety of habitats and because it's easy to grow and has reliable fall color even in Florida, it is widely planted. It will grow in both wet and dry soil, but in the southern part of Florida it's mostly found in wet soils. While it prefers some acidity, it tolerates a variety of soil types.


Red maple range map: Atlas of Florida's Plants

Using red maple trees in your yard

This is an attractive, medium to large tree growing to 50 to 85 feet tall depending on its location. It's a fast grower compared to many other trees and grows well in full sun or partial shade. The red maple has aggressive and wide spreading roots, so give it plenty of room. Do not plant it near septic or sewer lines and don't plant it near sidewalks or foundations. Don't try to grow a lawn under this tree but use it in a grouping of other trees and understory shrubs. A group or grove of trees, shrubs, bunching grasses, and ground covers also provides the best habitat for birds and pollinators

Red maple is one of only a few trees recommended for large rain gardens or bio swales in Florida since it can tolerate both flooding and drought.

Ecosystem services

The tree itself provides shelter and cover for a wide variety of wildlife. The seeds are eaten by birds, squirrels, and other animals. Deer will feed on the foliage, but the foliage is toxic to livestock. I've learned the hard way that when I plant a new maple, I protect the young tree with a tall wire fencing until it's tall enough to have its top out of reach.

Red maple is the larval food source for a number of butterflies and moths. Ones that I have seen in our yard are Io moth (Automeris io), Rosy maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda), and Imperial moth (Eacles imperialis), but there are quite a few other moths and butterflies that feed on maples. Here's a list: Lepidoptera that feed on maples

In addition to benefits for wildlife, maples and most other deciduous trees, cool the air due to shade, but more importantly from transpiration--the evaporation of water from pores on its leaves and you'll save money and energy on air conditioning. For details on this read, Transpiration: Forests' most important service.

Red maples offer good fall color, which usually appears in early winter. All maples have opposite leaves, and the red maple also has red stems.

The smooth gray bark is characteristic of younger maples, but as they age, the bark becomes rougher. Older maples often have hollow bases and most tend to sucker. You can see a few suckers on the right side of this tree, so when this old tree falls, a whole new group of trunks will grow from the same roots.

The maple seeds are called samaras. A typical female maple tree bears many seeds
in late winter, which are quite showy. 

Florida's maples

Maples are mostly dioecious, which means that a tree will bear either male or female flowers, but unlike many other dioecious plants, the maples can change the sex of the flowers they bear. Maples can also bear both male and female flowers. Also, the flowers are usually unisexual, with male and female flowers appearing in separate structures, but sometimes they are also bisexual. This sexual flexibility has a label: maples are polygamodioecious.

Ten years ago, the maple family (Aceraceae) became part of an expanded Soapberry family (Sapindaceae). Other family assignments have changed as well like the milkweed family (Asclepiadaceae) being swallowed up into the dogbane family (Apocynaceae). This detailed article posted in the Utah Native Plant Society publication explains how and why this happened. Hint: it's in the genes...

In addition to the red maple, there are five other species native to Florida, but all of the other species are found only in North Florida.  The boxelder (A. negundo), the silver maple (A. saccharinum), the Florida maple (A. saccharum subsp. floridanum), and the chalk maple (A. saccharum subsp. leucoderme).

So, I hope you have red maples in your yard and in your neighborhood, if not there are so many reasons to add them to your local landscapes. Here is its FNPS plant profile, which includes a link to native nurseries that have it in stock.

Green Gardening Matters
Ginny Stibolt


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