The maple family (genus) of trees, more than any other group, is responsible for providing the glorious New England fall foliage that delights us as residents and attracts tourists from across the globe. From mid-October to usually the beginning of November, maple trees dapple and dazzle landscapes from the mountains to the valleys, along streams and rivers, and down toward the coast, creating that quintessential New England fall landscape.
The species of maple called Red maple (‘Acer rubrum’) is a native tree that one might expect to consistently display red fall foliage. However, depending on the type (variety or cultivar), red maples can have variable fall foliage, from greenish to yellow to orange and to a wide range of reds, from bright red to deep burgundy. Red maples do, however, very often have some reddish parts, like stems, twigs, flowers and the familiar winged seeds, called samaras, at least for some parts of the year. If you watch a red maple over the course of four seasons, the underlying redness is a good feature for identification, as well as simply for pleasure in noticing that detail.
Bark of young red maples is smooth and light gray, becoming dark gray with a rough, scaly or furrowed bark with age. Red maples are fast-growers, reaching 40’ to 60’ in height, occasionally reaching 100’ or more. If provided with enough room to grow, red maples can make excellent choices for streets, lawns and parks. They do like a good drink of water, and tolerate “wet feet”, at least seasonally, and are for that reason sometimes called Swamp maples.
If you are considering planting a red maple in your landscape, there are a great number of cultivars available that show consistent fall color and have other desirable traits to be chosen to meet the specific conditions of your own unique site, as well as to suit your personal taste. Consult a trusted nursery or arborist to discover which cultivars are available and which specific traits of each type would work best for success of the tree and for your greatest enjoyment over decades to come.
One handsome cultivar of red maple is called ‘Autumn Blaze’, sometimes just ‘Blaze’, for short. ‘Autumn Blaze’ has deeply 5-lobed leaves, similar to a Silver maple, but with an excellent orange-red fall color, changing to a deeper, rich red as the season progresses. Check out the four or five ‘Autumn Blaze’ Red maples on Warren St in West Medford, which on a recent sunny morning were absolutely brilliant against the blue sky. Those trees were planted only five years ago, in the fall of 2012. They are doing beautifully and look quite happy near one another.
Thank you and congratulations to residents for helping to water and nurture these young trees, and all residents who support our public trees. Enjoy the reward for your efforts by witnessing the show-stopping fall foliage from our red maples and other trees in peak color and on high display over the coming weeks.
Submitted by Aggie Tuden, Medford Tree Warden