GardenSMART :: 8 Fun Facts Every Japanese Maple Lover Needs To Know
8 Fun Facts Every Japanese Maple Lover Needs To Know
By Kate Karam, Monrovia
Photographs courtesy of Monrovia
As with most fabulous plants, there's plenty of story to tell. Let's get to know these wonderfully elegant, fuss-free beauties a bit better.
With over 1,000 (yes, ONE THOUSAND) varieties and cultivars including hybrids, the iconic Japanese maple tree is among the most versatile small trees for use in the landscape. Here are 8 "did you know" fun facts about a tree for all seasons and reasons.
There are lots of Acers but only three species are commonly called Japanese maples, and only two of those are very commonly grown: Acer japonicum which hails from Japan, Korea and Manchuria and Acer palmatum which hails from Japan and eastern China. Some also come from eastern Mongolia, and southeast Russia. (Bonus when you use this in conversation – the third is Acer shirasawanum – also native to Japan.)
2. Good things come to those who wait
Japanese maples typically grow just one to two feet per year (which is why it might be wise to buy the largest one you can afford). That said, under the right conditions, they can live to be over one hundred years old. So, it's a trade-off!
Japanese maples grow best in zones 5–8 but can be grown in containers in colder and warmer zones if you can provide appropriate care. In colder zones, allow the plant to go fully dormant outside and then bring into an unheated garage or other sheltered, cool area. In warmer zones, place (or in this case plant) a Japanese maple in a shaded location and where it can be protected from drying winds. Neither is guaranteed, but it's worth a try if this is a must-have plant.
In Japan the maple is called the "autumn welcoming tree" and it is planted in the western portion of gardens (the direction from which fall comes).
5. They attract all kinds of life to the garden
Japanese maples are monoecious meaning they have both male and female flowers on the same plant. These flowers are inconspicuous and small, and though they do not attract insects, grouse, quail, and many songbirds adore them. Now the seeds on other hand are on the menu for squirrels, chipmunks and other small mammals.
6. GRAFTED? SEED? CUTTINGS?
Seeds can be collected from Japanese maple trees, but the seedlings are not guaranteed to be exact clones of the parent plant. While these trees can be grown from cuttings, most are slow growing, weak, and difficult to overwinter. Most of the Japanese maple trees you see in garden centers are the result of grafting, wherein the select variety is joined with a seedling grown rootstock so they can continue to grow together. Grafting works well because you are starting with a rootstock that is vigorous and already a year old. Ask for this type of propagation!
7. They wing it
Inconspicuous flowers are followed by fruits called samaras which are nutlets enclosed in a papery, fibrous tissue that's in the shape of wings. They are shaped to spin as they fall and to carry the seeds a considerable distance on the wind. Nature thinks of everything!
Development of Japanese maple cultivars started in Japan in the 1700's, but trees were only first seen in the West in 1820 when they were introduced in England. It was likely the straight species, A. palmatum.
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