One of the icons of fall color, the Red Maple has been a favorite tree for all time. Variations of red, pink, orange and yellow every fall color the foliage of the Red Maple at the first hint of frost and remain against the green background of Oaks until they all turn with the first hard freeze.
Acer rubrum is the Latin name for the Red Maple. It is tolerant of shade when young and thus many spend their first years in the understory of the forest waiting for a gap in the canopy above. Once they can reach full sun, they rapidly grow into a large forest tree. Growing in the open, the trees are broader and more rounded in form.
The flowers on this Maple are one of the first to open in spring. The color varies from a pale pink to a deep blood red and on some trees, they are quite attractive. These flowers are one of the first large sources of pollen and nectar for our honeybees. They bloom when it is still cool to cold but the days are warm enough for the bees to be active. Large trees have a lot of flowers.
Many of the new named varieties are all male and only produce pollen and no nectar. Seedling trees have both male and female flowers and make pollen and nectar. Seedling trees are fertile and will produce small winged seeds in late spring that will ripen and fry away of the spring breeze as “helicopters” as we called them as children. The horticultural name for these winged seed is Samara. The samara produced on Red Maples are small, rarely 2″ long and while abundant, they are not as messy as the ones made on Silver Maples. The leaves are medium in size and easily managed.
Red Maples are frequently visited by Yellow Belied Sapsuckers. https://rockbridgetrees.com/2016/01/the-sapsucker-the-maple-tree-the-honeybee/ These shy woodpeckers cause no harm to the tree but the distinctive lines of holes drilled shallowly into the bark cause the sweet maple sap to flow in late winter. This sweet sap that we can use to make syrup is used as a natural sugar source by the bees.