Acer Palmatum originates from China, Korea and Japan, and has become one of the most popular deciduous trees in temperate climate gardens worldwide. Their delicate foliage and graceful shape and form have been appreciated for centuries, delighting gardeners way beyond the borders of their natural distribution. Seed hybrids, sports or mutations and natural selections have resulted in hundreds of differently named cultivars being selected and propagated vegetatively by means of grafting.
Each of these has one or more distinguishing characteristics that justify the garden worthiness of the Acer Palmatum plant. Some of the selections are made on leaf size, shape and colour, which may also include the intensity of autumn colouration. Others are set apart by growth habit: dwarf and compact, tall and upright, arching or cascading branches are some key points of differentiation. Even the colour or texture of the bark is an attribute that distinguishes one maple from another.
Also known as Japanese Maples, these plants are mostly small trees or large shrubs, although mature trees can reach reasonable proportions (5 – 8m tall, and almost as wide). They are deciduous, with many branches and small to medium sized palmate (fingered) leaves. Many leaf variations and colours are found among the numerous hybrids and varieties that are cultivated.
It does best in cold climates, although some are found growing in slightly warmer areas with high rainfall. Acer Palmatum are lovely small trees for suburban gardens either grown as single specimens or in bold groupings. It is highly suitable for under-planting with a wide range of perennials and smaller shrubs. In autumn leaves turn bright shades of yellow, gold, orange and red, depending on the type and climatic conditions.
The Japanese people have long been intrigued and excited by plants with variegated leaves and this phenomenon is certainly evident in many Japanese maple cultivars. Some have the most intricately variegated leaves seen in the plant kingdom. Some have green leaves whilst others are shades of rich red or burgundy. Most deciduous maples have striking autumn foliage in hues of yellow, gold, orange, red and brown.
Even the bare limbs in winter have a unique appearance. The delicate new growth buds burst forth in early spring heralding the arrival of the new season’s foliage. This coincides with the emergence of tiny, almost insignificant flowers, in purple or red, in hanging corymbs. These develop into winged red seeds that turn brown in autumn and shed with the leaves.