Late last summer I purchased a small 7-foot tall maple tree that was
tagged as a red maple. When winter came what little leaves it had on
it (the leaves got thrashed around at the nusery) simply fell off. No
color change. This spring new leaves budded out, but they were just
green. There was no red tipped branches or red buds. Right now the
leaves are plain green on top, but the underside of the leaf isn't
silvery like I think a silver maple leaf should look like.
So here are my questions. How or when can I tell if this small maple
is a red maple? Do I just wait until this fall to see if the leaves
Red Maple is the common name for Acer rubrum, aka Scarlet Maple and Swamp
Maple. Emerging leaves are reddish tinged gradually changing medium to dark
green above with a distinct gray cast beneath. Red Maples get their name
from the brilliant red color they (usually) turn in the fall, although
stress and a variety of other factors can affect the show. Also, Red Maples
in the nursery trade are genetically selected for their fall color;
seedling trees which lesser-quality nurseries or plantsmen might sell as a
Red Maple may have really poor fall color; not that there is anything wrong
with buying seedling trees, it's just good to be forewarned that there is
extreme genetic variability in this species. In the trade, 'Autumn Blaze',
'Autumn Flame', 'Fairview Flame', and 'October Glory' all seem to be
reliable performers in the fall. So, a 'Red Maple' does not have year round
red leaves. In terms of comparison of leaf shape, Silver Maple (Acer
Sacharinum) is very different than Red Maple.
Red Maple: 2" to 4"(sometimes 5") long and wide, 3 although often 5-lobed,
triangular ovate lobes and sinuses are irregularly toothed (in Silver Maple
the sinuses are entire), medium to dark green above, grayish to silvery
beneaths with hairy veins, new growth and petioles often red. The petiole
is 2 to 4" long.
Silver Maple: 3" to 6" across, 5-lobed, with deeply and doubly acuminate
lobes, the middle often 3-lobed, bright to medium green above, silvery
white beneath and pubescent when young; petiole is 3" to 5" long. (My
thanks to Dirr for those descriptions).
David J. Bockman, Fairfax, VA (USDA Hardiness Zone 7)
You can tell the difference by the color of the underside of the
leaves. If they are not silvery, then it is a red maple. You can also
tell by the depth of the sinuses on the leaves- silver maple usually
has much deeper sinuses than red maple. There are also several hybrids
between the 2 trees (acer x freemanii) that have intermediate
characteristics of both parents. The culitvars mentioned by david are
actually the A. x freemanii species and not A. rubrum. Post a picture
of the buds.
Many growers offer Red Maples that are actually part silver, for faster
growth (faster growth = faster to market = more profit). These can be
called "red" or something else. "Autumn Blaze" is a patented version of
this hybrid. There's nothing wrong with that if the seller is honest
about what they are doing. Some gardeners snub the silver maples, but
silvers actually make pretty decent instant, non-permanent trees. I
planted several silver and part-silver maples this year amongst some
oaks. In ten or twenty years I'll thin out the maples and leave the
oaks. If you live in an area with hurricaines or icy winters though,
stay away from the silvers - they're too weak for those climates.
The leaf on the Canadian flag is a red maple. If your maple has leaves
with much deeper indentations then it is probably at least part silver,
although maple leaf shapes do vary in nature from one population to
another. Reds can have leaves that are grey or silver underneath like
Make sure you don't have a Norway maple. These trees interbreed with
local species and ruin them. Norways are currently a major problem in
the sugar maple forests of Vermont.
Recently I noticed at a local Kmart about thirty mis-labelled trees.
The pots said everything from sycamore to buckey, but every one was some
sort of maple. These stores don't always buy from the most reliable
sources. I bought a tulip poplar from another Kmart this year that
turned out to be a European sycamore. Guess I got what I paid for....
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