The Former Rarity of Red Maple in Maryland?

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Maryland botanist James Reveal, PhD was one of my instructors and I distinctly remember one of his comments regarding red maple.

He had several graduate students perform a detailed study of herbarium collections taken from colonial Maryland. This required going to England to scour the private collections of several colonial botanists and others. His five-year study examined large collections primarily made from 1696 through 1702. The cumulative collection identified a fourth of the plants found in Maryland. The collections were made within the coastal plain (easy access from the Bay and its tributaries, from boat) in what is now Anne Arundel, Calvert, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s, Harford, Cecil, Talbot and Dorchester counties.


So here is the major trivia (quotes) regarding Reveal’s findings:

“It is interesting that none of these men gathered red maple or loblolly pine, perhaps indicating that these two plants have since become more abundant and weedy as a result of cutting the native forest.”  (Reference page 6 of the attached PDF, which is page 250 of the actual document.)

“Conversely, we did not find a single early collection of red maple, nor was it mentioned by Jones although the plant is now common on the coastal plain.”

“It is interesting to note that the early American naturalists failed to collect Virginia creeper, which is now so common due to habitat destruction.”

“Another common species is reed grass (Phragmites), which the early naturalists did not collect.”

Reveal’s summary on our pre-colonial and colonial flora was that it was dominated by rich forests and woodlands comprising a wealth of tall and massive hardwood trees and elegant conifers. Shrubs were common on the forest margins, in the open meadows and swampy regions. Wildflowers were locally common at numerous sites and grass species were most frequent in swamps, meadows and natural openings. He discusses once massive stands of bald cypress and Atlantic white cedar in wetlands and coastal plain stands of eastern hemlock, the fondness of colonials for collecting partridgeberry and black-eyed Susan.

Can you imagine red maple being considered a “disturbance species,” so rare as to not have been collected. Amazing!

For an incredible read of colonial Maryland and its natural communities check out HUNTIA, A Journal of Botanical History, Volume 7, 1987, Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Comments on the Vegetation of Colonial Maryland, Melvin Brown, James Reveal, Rose Broome and George Frick, pages 247 through 282.

Source PDF Document:  08hibd-huntia-7-pp247-284