Acer rubrum “Red Sunset”
This is the tree that makes up our new avenue in the Park. The Red Maple, which tends to have three lobes on its leaf, is the old emblem of Canada. The more recent emblem is of a five lobed maple, more like the similar Sugar Maple Acer saccharum. The tree was originally introduced in the seventeenth century by a former resident of Lambeth.
Our cultivar “Red Sunset” is of much more recent origin. It’s a fast growing tree usually up to forty or fifty feet (15 metres) but reaching seventy feet if its roots are in water; hence its other name Swamp Maple. It certainly deserves its name “Red”. Red flowers, red fruit, red stalks, even red pith and reddish wood, let alone the glorious red leaves in the autumn. The red flowers also sit alone on the branches before the leaves in March.
It comes mainly from the eastern seaboard of North America and can be found from Florida to Newfoundland, preferring swamps and wet woods but happy enough to grow up to 3000 feet in the hills. It likes sunny days, freezing nights and wet soil, and for this reason it often does not fruit or colour as well here with our cool short summers. It is also called the White Maple on account of its branches being pale and beech-like.
In Canada the wood has been used for making furniture and gun handles. There are about nine cultivars here in Great Britain, but there are more in Canada. Our cultivar “Red Sunset” is a medium size tree with upswept branches and wonderful autumn range of reds. Let’s hope this favourite thrives and produces a much needed splash of bright colour in autumn across the Park.