Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Red Maple - Acer rubrum   L.
Members of Sapindaceae:
Members of Acer with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Sapindales » Family Sapindaceae
DistributionStatewide, found in all 100 counties.

The species has a broad Eastern range, occurring from eastern Canada south to the Gulf Coast and west to the edge of the Great Plains.
AbundanceAbundant all across the state, being certainly the most numerous broadleaf tree in the state, rivaled only by Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) as the most abundant tree in the state. As with the pine, this species aggressively invades old fields, but it also is starting to dominate the understory, and perhaps eventually the canopy, of a large acreage of hardwood forests (owing mostly to poor reproduction of oaks in shaded habitats).
HabitatThis tree is very widespread, and found in both bottomland and swamp forests, and in a great variety of upland forests. It favors moist sites, or fairly rich soils, but hardly any forests other than spruce-fir seem to lack this tree. It is not numerous in upland sandy soils such as in pine-oak sandhills, but does occur on rocky slopes and hilltops. It also rapidly invades old fields, along with Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), these trees being the primary hardwood species in old field regeneration.
PhenologyOne of the earliest trees to flower, often from January to March; fruits also extremely early, from February to July. One often sees fully developed samaras (fruit) on the trees in February and March.
IdentificationThis tree hardly needs a description, as it is familiar to anyone. It is a medium to large deciduous tree, ranging to 75-90 feet tall. The three-lobed leaves are medium-sized, smaller than those of Striped Maple (A. pensylvanicum) but quite similar to those of Mountain Maple (A. spicatum). However, Mountain Maple has long, erect (but may droop slightly) raceme-like inflorescences unlike other maples. Red Maple usually has some reddish color on the petioles of the leaves, as well. Lastly, the other two maples are almost shrub-like or small trees; Red Maple is a medium to large tree.
Taxonomic CommentsQuite a few varieties have been named for this species. Weakley (2018) shows only two as being in NC, the statewide nominate var. rubrum and the mainly Coastal Plain var. trilobum. However, Weakley (2018) had split out one former variety as a full species – Drummond’s Maple or Swamp Red Maple (A. drummondii); however, in 2020, he moved that taxon back into A. rubrum.

Other Common Name(s)Swamp Maple, Water Maple, Soft Maple. These are hardly used in most references, however.
State RankS5
Global RankG5
State Status
US Status
USACE-agcpFAC link
USACE-empFAC link
County Map - click on a county to view source of record.
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B.A. SorrieSame area, May 2006. MoorePhoto_natural
B.A. SorrieWhispering Pines, March 2015. MoorePhoto_natural
B.A. SorrieBlue Ridge Parkway, May 2015. HaywoodPhoto_natural
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