Rick’s Native Plant of the Month | Red Maple (Acer Rubrum)

March 12, 2024

By Rick Bogusch

Bridge Gardens

Everything about red maple is red. Buds, twigs, flowers, emerging leaves and fruits are all red or red-tinged, plus its fall color is some of the earliest and most brilliant to be seen. 

Native to eastern North America, including Long Island, red maple can be found from Maine to Florida and west to Texas and Missouri. Though it prefers moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soils in full sun, it tolerates a wide range of soils and growing conditions, including partial shade. It can be found growing on dry, rocky upland sites, but it is also frequently found, as on Long Island, in low, wet areas and on the margins of wet woods. 

Red Maple is a fast-growing, medium-sized tree, around 50 feet tall with a rounded or oval profile. With small red petals, stamens and pistils, its flowers are clustered at the ends of twigs and appear in late winter and early spring. On Long Island, they are in bloom right now. Both buds and flowers are a favorite food for overwintering birds and early migrants, as are the seeds that develop in papery, 2-winged capsules known as samaras. 


Red maple’s bright green leaves are distinctively 3-lobed with pointed tips and toothed margins. When night temperatures drop in early autumn, they turn shades of red, orange and yellow and signal the start of another season.

Easily grown, red maples are popular shade and specimen trees for lawns and parks. Many varieties are available in the nursery trade, some with distinctive growth habits and exceptional fall color. Though intolerant of urban air pollution and despite the tendency of their shallow roots to buckle adjacent sidewalks, they are also commonly used as street trees.

Red maples are also good trees for naturalizing along a woodland edge. Besides providing food for birds with flowers and seeds, they are also host to a variety of caterpillars and insects, which in turn become food for other wildlife.

Support the Peconic Land Trust
Peconic Land Trust needs your support to protect the working farms, natural lands, and heritage of Long Island.