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What Time is it in Nature: Red Maple in Bloom

March 18, 2013

Big changes are about to take place as we enter spring at Prairie Ridge! There will be new leaves, new flowers, and new grasses and everything is on the verge of becoming bright green once again. We’re just starting to see the first signs of spring now, and one of the most vivid and early signs is the Red Maple (Acer rubrum) in bloom.

Female red maple flower

Red Maple is a very common tree that ranges across the entire eastern US. During the summer, it sports the pointed green leaves typical of maple trees, but it gets its common name, Red Maple, from the showy vibrant red of the leaves in the fall. The twigs, seeds, and flowers are also red to varying extents. Red Maples can grow quite tall in the right conditions, but they are also commonly planted in landscaped areas for the great shade they provide in summer and for the spectacular color they display in the fall. Red Maple typically reaches heights of 50-90 feet and is considered a medium-lived tree with a lifespan that rarely exceeds 150 years.

Red Maples are able to adapt their growth to a wide variety of soil types and moisture levels. Seeds that germinate in wet areas generally develop a long, shallow root system that extends far from the base of the tree. In contrast, seeds germinating in dry areas develop into trees with very deep taproots and much shorter shallow roots. Red Maples are also able to survive long periods of flooding and drought and are successful early colonizers of clear-cut forest patches or forests that have been decimated by fires, beetle infestations, or disease. Their hardiness and ability to grow in a wide variety of habitats and soil types make them one of the most common trees in the US.

Red Maple is one of the earliest trees to bloom in the spring and its flowers typically appear before any other deciduous trees begin to show leaves. There are two types of flowers, male and female, though they are of similar shape and coloration. Male flowers sport 4-12 stamens protruding beyond the cup of the flower while the female flowers (shown above) have only 2 styles emerging from the flower. A Red Maple tree can have all male or female flowers, or a mix of the two.

The Red Maples at Prairie Ridge are currently in bloom, a sure sign that spring is coming soon to Prairie Ridge. Come on out and walk our Forest Trail for some great views of these gorgeous trees!

Red maple in bloom

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Musuem’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

(Photos by Chris Goforth)

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