Acer palmatum displays many genetic differences. Height and shape can vary between cultivars, but the average for species plants is approximately 25 feet tall. Its habit can change depending on cultivar, but species plants are dome-like at maturity. These plants typically grow as understory trees in the wild. Acer palmatum’s leaves have five, seven, or nine pointed lobes, and the leaf size and shape can vary. The leaves are often the strongest part of the plant for me.
Acer palmatum is adaptable to different conditions and gets along well with other plants. They are good for paths and shallow areas due to their compact roots. Well drained soil and planting in the spring is advised. While not required if you have enough space, pruning can be nice to give a personal or artistic touch to the plant.
Acer palmatum was named by Carl Peter Thunberg after the hand like shape of its leaves.
For hundreds of years, Japanese horticulturists have developed many cultivars, and some drastically differ from the species plants. Since a lot of the allure of this plant is the wide array of cultivars in habit, leaf shape and color, I’d like to cover a few of the ones that stand out at the Harry Wood Garden.
‘Shishigashira’ is a slow-growing cultivar that only reaches 7-15’ tall. The crinkled leaves are very interesting, and the fall color is gold and crimson.
‘Tamukeyama’ has a drooping habit with red, lacy leaves. It’s about 8’ tall and 12’ wide. Its fall color is even stronger red.
‘Hogyoku’ grows to about 18’ tall and 15’ wide. It has very nice pumpkin orange fall color. Cultivar name is from Japanese for “jewel”.
‘Utsu-semi’ has purple and red fall color. After 10 years it matures to 9’-12’ tall and wide. Leaves are bright green when they first appear.
These four aren’t even the tip of the iceberg with this great plant. There are hundreds more, which are great and differ greatly!