The state tree of Rhode Island has been the red maple, or Acer rubrum. This hardwood tree can typically reach heights of between 30 and 90 feet (9.14 to 27.4 meters). It usually produces yellow or red flowers in late spring, and can take on a brilliant reddish hue in autumn. The state tree of Rhode Island is considered common in North America, and can be found growing as far south as Florida, as far west as Texas, and as far north as Newfoundland. It is considered a hardy tree, capable of flourishing in many types of soil. It usually prefers the wetter soil often found in river valleys, swamps, and near lakes.
The red maple was unofficially considered the state tree of Rhode Island since sometime in the final decade of the 19th century. The decision was made official in 1964. These trees are considered especially vulnerable to the depredations of wildfires. They are, however, considered fairly hardy in the face of freezing temperatures and ice, flooding and excessively wet soil.
These trees probably received their common name due to the crimson hue of the leaves and flowers. The leaves and flowers of the red maple are typically scarlet in the spring and may again become so in the autumn. The leaves of the state tree of Rhode Island may also turn violet or bright yellow in the autumn. They are considered attractive additions to most gardens, and wild animals, such as the white-tailed deer, depend on these trees for a source of food in the colder months.
These deciduous trees are often the primary species found in many forests of the eastern United States and Canada. They can grow in rocky, arid soil types, though they usually thrive better in rich, wet soil types. Though individual trees are not considered very fire-resistant, new growths of the state tree of Rhode Island generally appear very quickly after a wild fire. Pesticides and diseases that have ravaged other tree species, such as Chestnut blight, gypsy moths, and Dutch elm disease, are believed to not only to have spared these trees, but to have provided more advantageous conditions for their proliferation. This may be because these dangers kill other trees that compete with the state tree of Rhode Island for light, water, and other resources, allowing more red maple trees to flourish faster.