Acer rubrum Red Maple

<i>Acer rubrum</i> Red Maple Red maple can grow in a variety of moist and dry biomes, from dry ridges and sunny, southwest-facing slopes to peat bogs and swamps. While many types of tree prefer a south- or north-facing aspect, the red maple does not appear to have a preference.[8] Its ideal conditions are in moderately well-drained, moist sites at…

Description

<i>Acer rubrum</i> Red Maple

Red maple can grow in a variety of moist and dry biomes, from dry ridges and sunny, southwest-facing slopes to peat bogs and swamps. While many types of tree prefer a south- or north-facing aspect, the red maple does not appear to have a preference.[8] Its ideal conditions are in moderately well-drained, moist sites at low or intermediate elevations. However, it is nonetheless common in mountainous areas on relatively dry ridges, as well as on both the south and west sides of upper slopes. Furthermore, it is common in swampy areas, along the banks of slow moving streams, as well as on poorly drained flats and depressions. In northern Michigan and New England, the tree is found on the tops of ridges, sandy or rocky upland and otherwise dry soils, as well as in nearly pure stands on moist soils and the edges of swamps. In the far south of its range, it is almost exclusively associated with swamps.[8] Additionally, red maple is one of the most drought-tolerant species of maple in the Carolinas.[15]

Red maple is far more abundant today than when Europeans first arrived in North America. It only contributed minimally to old-growth upland forests, and would only form same-species stands in riparian zones.[8] The density of the tree in many of these areas has increased six- to seven-fold, and this trend seems to be continuing, all of which is due to human factors, mainly loss of forest management by Native Americans who managed the forests to enhance acorn production and oak tree growth.[16] This loss of management has been further enhanced by continued heavy logging and a recent trend of young, shrubby forests recovering from past human disturbances. Also, the decline of American elm and American chestnut due to introduced diseases has contributed to its spread. Red maple dominates such sites, but largely disappears until it only has a sparse presence by the time a forest is mature. This species is in fact a vital part of forest regeneration in the same way that paper birch is.

Because it can grow on a variety of substrates, has a high pH tolerance, and grows in both shade and sun, A. rubrum is a prolific seed producer and highly adaptable, often dominating disturbed sites. While many believe that it is replacing historically dominant tree species in the Eastern United States, such as sugar maplesbeechesoakshemlocks and pines, red maple will only dominate young forests prone to natural or human disturbance. In areas disturbed by humans where the species thrives, it can reduce diversity, but in a mature forest, it is not a dominant species; it only has a sparse presence and adds to the diversity and ecological structure of a forest. Extensive use of red maple in landscaping has also contributed to the surge in the species’ numbers as volunteer seedlings proliferate. Finally, disease epidemics have greatly reduced the population of elms and chestnuts in the forests of the US. While mainline forest trees continue to dominate mesic sites with rich soil, more marginal areas are increasingly being dominated by red maple.[17]

The red maple is used as a food source by several forms of wildlife. Elk and white-tailed deer in particular use the current season’s growth of red maple as an important source of winter food. Several Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) utilize the leaves as food, including larvae of the rosy maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda); see List of Lepidoptera that feed on maples.

Red maple is a good choice of a tree for urban areas when there is ample room for its root system. Forming an association with Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi can help A. rubrum grow along city streets.[20] It is more tolerant of pollution and road salt than sugar maples, although the tree’s fall foliage is not as vibrant in this environment. Like several other maples, its low root system can be invasive and it makes a poor choice for plantings near paving. It attracts squirrels, who eat its buds in the early spring, although squirrels prefer the larger buds of the silver maple.[21]