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Intro to Trees of Indiana: Red Maple

The classic and trusted book "Fifty Common Trees of Indiana" by T.E. Shaw was published in 1956 as a user-friendly guide to local species.  Nearly 70 years later, the publication has been updated through a joint effort by the Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Indiana 4-H, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and reintroduced as "An Introduction to Trees of Indiana."

A printed copy of the full publication is available for purchase for $7 in the Purdue Extension Education Store. The field guide helps identify common Indiana woodlot trees. 

Each week, the Intro to Trees of Indiana web series will offer a sneak peek at one species from the book, paired with an ID That Tree video from Purdue Extension forester Lenny Farlee to help visualize each species as it stands in the woods. Threats to species health as well as also insight into the wood provided by the species, will be provided through additional resources as well as the Hardwoods of the Central Midwest exhibit of the Purdue Arboretum, if available. Line drawing of a red maple leaf

This week, we introduce the red maple or Acer rubrum.

Red maple has simple three to five-lobed leaves with relatively shallow, v-shaped divisions between the lobes. The oppositely held leaves may resemble sugar maple but the V shaped shallow divisions stand in contrast to sugar maple’s deep u-shaped sinuses. In the early spring, it is one of the earliest native trees to flower, producing clusters of reddish flowers as well as reddish colored pairs of winged seeds/fruit. In the fall, foliage typically turns a bright red to maroon color.

The bark is gray and smooth in young trees and may become flaky in older trees.

Red maple, which is a popular ornamental and street tree selection, is one of Indiana’s soft maples alongside silver maple. It also can be found in Indiana woodlands in both moist and dry sites and in bottomlands and uplands.

Red maple, grow 50 to 80 feet tall and are found growing throughout the eastern United States including the coastal regions.

The Morton Arboretum warns that red maple was display chlorosis symptoms of pale green leaves with dark green veins in high pH soil and drought conditions. The species also does not tolerate heavy pollution.

Soft maple wood panelsAccording to the Hardwood Lumber and Veneer Series, red maple weighs 38 pounds per cubic foot and is described as soft maple in the lumber trade along with silver maple as they are lighter and softer than hard or sugar maple. Some mills separate the soft maples into silver leaf (silver maple) and red leaf (red maple).

Red maple is a somewhat stronger, harder wood than silver maple. Soft maple lumber is used for many of the same purposes as hard maple except where strength and hardness are concerned. Commercially, the wood can also be stained to look like cherry. High value uses of soft maple include millwork, kitchen cabinets and furniture. It is also used for pallets, crates and basket veneer.

Other Resources:
Hardwoods of the Central Midwest: Soft Maple
Hardwood Lumber and Veneer Series, The Education Store: Soft Maple
Morton Arboretum: Red Maple
Fifty Trees of the Midwest app for the iPhone, The Education Store
Native Trees of the Midwest, The Education Store
Shrubs and Woody Vines of Indiana and the Midwest, The Education Store
Investing in Indiana Woodlands, The Education Store
Forest Improvement Handbook, The Education Store
ID That Tree, Purdue Extension-Forestry & Natural Resources (FNR) YouTube playlist
Woodland Management Moment , Purdue Extension-FNR YouTube playlist

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