Different Kinds of Red Maple Trees

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Red maple trees put on a show every fall.
Red maple trees put on a show every fall. (Image: red maple leaves image by Penny Williams from Fotolia.com)

Few things are more beautiful than the brilliant color of a red maple tree in the fall. Although many people think of red maple trees as being all the same, there are three varieties of red maple trees. They grow as native species throughout the United States. That means many people who like to look at the colorful fall leaves likely have a red maple tree somewhere nearby.

Red Maple Species

Acer rubrum L. is the species name for all three varieties of red maple. The three varieties are Acer rubrum L. var. rubrum, Acer rubrum L. var. trilobum Torr. & A. Gray ex K. Koch, and the Acer rubrum L. var. drummondii (Hook. & Arn. ex Nutt.) Sarg. Drummond's. The three varieties have certain common characteristics. Red maples—also called swamp maples—are one of dozens of members of the Aceraceae, or maple family. Arguably the showiest of the maple family with their leaves that turn a fiery red in the fall, red maples also help prevent erosion, especially in wet areas, and the seeds provide food for squirrels and some birds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The shade-tolerant red maple also does well in drained but moist soils, which make them suited for growing in yards. They grow in the eastern half of the United States.

Other common names for red maples are Carolina red maple, scarlet maple, soft maple and water maple. Fast-growing red maples have an oval shape and reach a height of up to 75 feet. The trees are rated hardy in USDA zones four through nine, according to the University of Florida Extension.

Acer Rubrum L. Variety Rubrum

The Acer rubrum L. var. rubrum red maple variety grows in 34 states, including Oklahoma and Texas, but otherwise roughly from the Missouri River eastward to the Atlantic Ocean. It grows not only in the yards of homes, but also grows massed in forests or along roadways.

The base of the leaves–where it meets the stem–is fairly straight across and the leaf is longer than it is wide, coming to graceful pointed ends. The seed pods are small and narrow.

Acer Rubrum L. Variety Trilobum

With a few exceptions, the Acer rubrum L. var. trilobum Torr. & A. Gray ex K. Koch red maple grows in the same states where the Acer rubrum L. var. rubrum red maple grows. Those exceptions are Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

The leaf of this variety is more rounded and is almost as wide as it is tall. The seed pods are bigger and wider than the Acer rubrum L. var. rubrum red maple.

Acer Rubrum L. Variety Drummondii

The last red maple has the longest name: the Acer rubrum L. var. drummondii (Hook. & Arn. ex Nutt.) Sarg. Drummond's maple. However, Sarg. Drummond's red maple is not as widespread as the other two varieties. It is widespread only in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

The Acer rubrum L. var. drummondii has a smooth leaf that is cross between the other two. Wider than it is tall, but it has pointed, rather than rounded, leaf ends. Its seed pods are large.

Every fall, numerous tourists, known as leaf-peepers, travel to places with plentiful red maple trees to see the breathtaking fall colors of the leaves of all three varieties of red maple trees.

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