Soft Maple (Acer rubrum) is also known as scarlet maple, swamp maple, soft maple, Carolina red maple, Drummond red maple, and water maple. On good sites it may grow fast with good form and quality for saw logs. Red maple is a subclimax species that can occupy overstory space but is usually replaced by other species. It is classed as shade tolerant and as a prolific sprouter. It has great ecological amplitude from sea level to about 900 m (3,000 ft) and grows over a wide range of microhabitat sites. It ranks high as a shade tree for landscapes.
THE TREE: Soft maples grow to heights of 120 ft (36 m), with a diameter of 3 ft (1 m). The bark of soft maple is smooth, light gray on young stems; dark gray and rough on old limbs and trunk; old bark divided by shallow fissures into flat, scaly ridges at surface, making tree look shaggy. The leaves are 2 to 5 inches long, having 3 to 5 lobes, with double-toothed margins; upper surface light green when mature; lower surface whitish and partly covered with pale down.
The wood of soft maples resembles that of hard maples but is not as heavy, hard and strong, the better grade of soft maple has been substituted for hard maple in furniture. The sapwood in the soft maples is considerably wider than that in the hard maples and has a lighter heartwood color.
WOOD CHARACTERISTICS: Maple lumber comes principally from the Middle Atlantic and Lake States, which together account for about two-thirds of the production. The wood of sugar maple and black maple is known as hard maple; that of silver maple, red maple, and boxelder as soft maple. The sapwood of the maples is commonly white with a slight reddish-brown tinge; the heartwood is light reddish brown, but sometimes is considerably darker. The sapwood is from 3 to 5+ inches (76 to 127+ mm) thick.
Soft maple is an important source of sawtimber and pulpwood but is often overlooked as a wood resource. The wood is used for furniture, veneer, pallets, cabinetry, plywood, barrels, crates, flooring, and railroad ties.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Soft maple is one of the most widely distributed trees in eastern North America. Its range extends from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia west to southern Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois; south through Missouri, eastern Oklahoma, and southern Texas; and east to southern Florida. It is conspicuously absent from the bottomland forests of the Corn Belt in the Prairie Peninsula of the Midwest, the coastal prairies of southern Louisiana and southeastern Texas, and the swamp prairie of the Florida everglades. It is cultivated in Hawaii.