3 Acer palmatumCommon Names: Japanese maple Family: Aceraceae (maple Family)
Japanese maple is a deciduous shrub or small tree with a broad, rounded shape. The canopy is wispy and delicate, and in some cultivars, weeping. The species usually stays about 15-20 ft (4.6-6 m) tall and wide, but can get larger under ideal conditions. Japanese maple has slender, glabrous twigs and smooth gray bark. Branches tend to grow in horizontal layers, and often are contorted and twisted, and some specimens have more than one main trunk. The palmate leaves are 2-5 in (5-13 cm) long and wide, and deeply dissected with 5 to 11 lobes. The lobes are lance shaped, sharply pointed at the tips and doubly toothed on the edges.
Acer palmatum is famous for its autumn display of color when leaves turn brilliant shades of scarlet, yellow or orange. This is an extremely variable species with several naturally occurring varieties and hundreds of selected cultivars. Popular cultivars include those with reddish purple leaves, and some with red or purple twigs. There are cultivars that get no larger than 5 or 6 ft (1.5-1.8 m) tall and wide; others are columnar, vase shaped, or "weeping" and moundlike with branches that droop or cascade. Some have leaves that are dissected all the way to the midrib. See the beautiful book, Japanese Maples, by J. T. Vertrees, for a detailed account of hundreds of cultivars.
Acer palmatum is native to China, Korea and Japan. This lovely plant is greatly admired and is grown in temperate gardens and landscapes all over the world.
CultureNeeds a fertile, well drained, acidic soil. Light: Partial or filtered shade is best in warmer regions. In Florida, full shade is okay. Farther north, more sun is better. The purple-leaved cultivars require full sun or their leaves will be green. Moisture: Not drought tolerant. Japanese maple does best with regular watering. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 8. Some cultivars are hardy to zone 5B, and some can take the heat in zone 9A. Propagation: Most Japanese maple cultivars are grafted on to special root stocks. They also can be propagated by rooting softwood cuttings in spring and summer. Japanese maple will grow from seeds, and seedlings tend to be faster growing, stronger and more drought tolerant than the cultivars and many are just as interesting. You take your chances with seeds!
This is one of the most beautiful small trees for the ornamental landscape. It is perfectly suited as a specimen tree, an accent in a mixed border, or in a container on the patio. It anchors the Japanese style garden. Many of the cultivars remain quite small and are especially useful in small gardens, even rock gardens, and for bonsai. The brilliant fall foliage lights up the garden, and the slender twigs and contorted branches provide winter interest.
Japanese maple is the most popular garden maple. Its compact size, pretty lacy foliage, brilliant fall color and picturesque branch architecture find favor among gardeners everywhere.
Steve Christman 11/20/00; updated 4/11/03, 10/7/03, 7/10/04, 4/16/12