Although many plants have misleading or confusing common names, "red maple" describes the tree Acer rubrum extremely well. The color red appears over and over during the lifecycle of this tree. During autumn, the foliage takes on a deep red hue, thanks to anthocyanin pigments, before individual leaves float to the ground. Next, small red flowers provide pollen for bees, during early spring when many other plants may not be in flower. Once the flowers are pollinated they develop red, winged fruits, known as samaras, helicopters, or whirly birds. Even the new leaves in spring seem to blush.
Native Americans had plenty of uses for red maple, such as treatment for cataracts. Early American pioneers made dyes from red maple bark extract. Red maple can be used to make maple syrup, although its sap is not as sugary as the sugar maple. Red maple twigs are browsed by white-tailed deer, while the trunk may offer nesting sites for Wood Ducks or other cavity-nesters. Red maple is known as one of the easiest trees to grow because it thrives in a wide range of conditions, including flooded sites. In south Florida, red maple trees tend to grow taller in moist soil. Next time you visit Naples Botanical Garden, check out red maples up-close on the Wild Florida Loop Trail in the Smith Children’s Garden.
Author: Andee Naccarato, Department of Education and Conservation, Naples Botanical Garden
Originally published by the News-Press