Many north-easterners who relocate to south Florida pine for the profusion of autumn colors worn by deciduous trees in their native northern climates. While true that most south Florida trees are either clad in green year-round or drop their leaves without much chromatic bravado, for south Florida’s pigmentally deprived there is one tree that does literally show its true colors, the Red Maple.
The Appearance of the Red Maple Tree in Florida
The Red Maple’s tri-lobed leaves are typically light green above and silvery beneath. Come autumn, however, water and mineral intake into the leaves decreases, as does the level of chlorophyll, and the Red Maple begins to live up to its name. As the green chlorophyll wanes, red anthocyanin production kicks in and is revealed in the leaves as vivid, beautiful shades of crimson, carmine and scarlet.
Why Is It called the Swamp Maple
Though a few uncommon maple species struggle into Florida’s northern panhandle, the Red Maple is perhaps the most Floridian of maples and the only maple naturally found throughout the state. Found in a variety of early successional habitats from Southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Atlantic coast west to the Great Plains, in Florida, the Red Maple tends to like to keep its feet wet and favors well-hydrated environments such as floodplains and swamps. This preference has lead to the species sometimes being colloquially known as “Swamp Maple”.
How the Red Maple Tree Benefits Florida Wildlife
A popular and attractive landscaping tree, the Red Maple is also a valuable food source for wildlife. The springtime clusters of petite, bell-like ruby-red flowers offer copious amount nectar and pollen for honeybees, native bees, flies, beetles and other pollinators. The winged seeds, known as samaras, are relished by Eastern Gray, Southern Flying, and Fox Squirrels, as well as by a variety of birds including Northern Cardinals, Wild Turkeys, and Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. White-tailed Deer browse the leaves as do many smaller herbivores such as the caterpillars of many beautiful moths including the fabulous Rosy Maple Moth, Io Moth, Imperial Moth, Polyphemus Moth, and ethereal, pale green Luna Moth. Planting Red Maples in our communities provides a feast, both literally, by offering sustenance to a wide array of wildlife, and a feast for the eyes, with its refined, ever-changing good looks.
Proper Plant Care for Florida Maple Tree
The Florida maple can be interplanted with other trees or planted in groups to create a lush, woodland setting. The tree forms surface roots that can be damaged by a lawnmower, so don’t plant grass all the way up to the trunk. It can handle “wet feet,” which means it doesn’t mind areas that stay wet for a time after heavy rains. This also means it can thrive planted near a pond or lake.
Other landscape uses for the Florida maple include a single yard specimen and along the property line.
Choose a wet site in partial shade or full sun. Unless the soil in the area is naturally moist, the tree will need frequent watering. Slow, deep watering is better than frequent light watering, as this will encourage the roots to grow deeper.
Add topsoil or a mixture of composted cow manure and organic peat moss to the hole when planting the Florida maple. Since the tree drops its leaves in the winter, consider planting it far enough into your lawn so that the fallen leaves don’t cover sidewalks and driveways. You’ll need to trim it occasionally to remove lower branches that obstruct vehicle or foot traffic, but otherwise, no trimming is necessary. Fertilize the tree three times a year—spring, summer, and fall—with a general granular fertilizer.
How Long Does It Take for a Red Maple Tree to Grow?
This shade tree is relatively fast-growing, but it does take some time to grow. The Florida maple is a medium grower, which means it grows about 12-18 inches a year. However, it can take approximately 25 years for the tree to reach its full height of about 60 feet. From there, it will continue to mature, and in the end, you will have a tree that spreads out about 25-35 feet from its trunk, giving plenty of delicious shade.
The tree grows taller when planted near water, and the leaves have the classic maple-leaf shape.
Is Red Maple Native to Florida?
The red maple is the only maple tree native to Florida and found as far south as Broward and mainland Monroe counties. These counties are the extreme southern boundaries of its range.