R is for Red Maple

Two species of maple are common on the property where I live. On the left is a leaf from a sugar maple, Acer saccharum, the common, familiar tree that we tap to make maple syrup each spring, the one that’s on the Canadian flag. On the right is a leaf from a red maple, Acer rubrum. I love that their Latin names actually mean sugar and red – makes them easy to remember. You can easily tell them apart by their leaves if you know what to look for, because sugar maple leaves have nice smooth edges while red maple leaves have coarse teeth. S for sugar maple and smooth, R for red maple and rough! (Click to enlarge the photo if you can’t see what I’m talking about.)

Red maples are much more tolerant of wet habitats that sugar maples, and for this reason we often see them growing around the edges of the bogs.

It’s pretty striking, actually. I took this photo yesterday while walking on a trail that ran along the edge of a bog. The side of the trail facing the bog was lined with red maples and some white pines. The side of the trail away from the bog was all sugar maple and balsam fir. Ecological gradients!

Update: Tom has suggested that the particular tree whose leaf I plucked for my comparison shot may not be a pure red maple after all. See the comments. These tricky trees and their darn gene flow!

2 thoughts on “R is for Red Maple”

  1. Speaking of gradients… The red maple leaf you have photographed looks like the leaf of Freeman’s maple, which some consider a hybrid between silver and red maple, but I believe is a good species based on my observations. Typical red maple leaves don’t have those deep sinuses.

    1. Huh. Well, maybe! My tree field guide (the Sibley one) doesn’t list Freeman’s maple, and I hadn’t heard of it before. Looking at that leaf shape now, you’re right that it’s not typical for a red maple. It’s definitely possible that that particular tree has some silver maple genetics in its background. Gradients indeed!

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