A PASSION FOR PLANTS: March 2008
by Nancy Schramm
The Joy of Species Maples
Despite what I used to think, the Japanese maple is NOT the
only Acer on the block! I grew up in love with the small Japanese
maple that shaded my childhood playhouse. It was so important
to me that when my parents decided to move our home and nursery,
I demanded that they dig and move that tree, too. To my surprise,
Dad acquiesced! I don't know how old the tree was when it was
moved, but the transplant was a success and that tree thrived
for over 30 years in it's new home. It was during the time that
we (the tree and I) both lived on Mozart Ave (the 2nd location
of Carman's Nursery) that I found out there were other maples
worth growing. Species maples. Depending on whom you listen to,
there are between 100 and 140 species maples. I haven't seen
(or for that matter heard of) even a fraction of that many, but
that's not for the lack of trying.
Acer truncatum is one of the first species maples I learned
about. It deserves to be more widely planted. The new leaves
open a gorgeous purple red before turning a rich green for the
rest of the summer. It is more tolerant of pollution and hot,
dry, sunny locations than the Japanese maple, but has the same
attractive form and a similar leaf shape. Fall color can range
from a plummy purple to yellows and oranges.
The trident maple (A.buergerianum) is so named because
the leaf has three points (also sometimes referred to as a duckfoot).
Another lovely small shade tree, the trident maple, is prized
by bonsai enthusiasts. The fall color can be magnificent. I have
some that turn blood red, but I've also seen some with yellows
and oranges mixed in.
The first time I saw a small paperbark maple (A.griseum),
I was positive it was a poison oak plant. "Leaves of three"
is a perfect description. Look a little closer though, at the
trunk, to see where the name originated. The cinnamon-colored
peeling bark is extremely ornamental during the winter when it
is no longer hidden by the dark green leaves. Add to all this
a striking red fall color for a wonderful year-round package.
If you are lucky enough to have some nice shady areas, consider
planting a vine maple (A.circinatum). In the deeply shady,
moist Pacific Northwest where it is native, this maple can indeed
grow like a vine. But just as often, given a little clearing,
it can slowly grow into a lovely specimen tree. The leaves can
be quite large and round and somewhat pleated, with a serrated
edge that looks almost frilly.
Snakebark maples. How's that for a common name? It refers
to a group of several species maples including A.capillipes,
A.rufinerve, and A.davidii. The leaf shapes vary,
but as these trees gain even just a few years of maturity the
green trunk and larger branches develop fine silvery-white lines
that are very distinctive in winter.
Don't start dreaming about making your own maple syrup,
but the sugar maple(A.saccharum) can be a wonderful tree
in this area.
Potentially quite large (75') the fall color can be spectacular,
though sometimes uneven if we have a long, warm autumn.
One of my favorite maples, and the most rare (and, I'm sorry,
probably the hardest to find), is A.pentaphyllum. The
5-lobed leaves are very narrow and extremely deeply divided which
gives it a delicate, lacy appearance. This maple is very slow
growing. Agonizingly slow, according to my friend Betsy Clebsch
("the" salvia expert) who said she was never so happy
to take out a plant than her A. pentaphyllum that refused to
grow! If you have plenty of patience, it will turn yellow, orange,
and pink in the fall.
But wait-how about a maple with fragrant flowers? The amur
maple (A.tataricum ginnala) has clusters of small yellow
fragrant flowers. After that, the typical "helicopter"
seeds form, with the amur maple seeds being red and very ornamental.
Leaves on this tree are 3-lobed, with toothed edges. They turn
brilliant red in the fall.
I must tell you a bit more about maple seeds. All of these maples
I've been talking about (indeed all maples) form the same type
of seed, but they vary both in size and color. Some are held
singly, like Christmas tree ornaments, some grow in small clusters,
and still other (like on our native bigleaf maple, (A.macrophyllum)
hang in long attractive chains. The species maples (as opposed
to selected cultivars) will generally come true to the parent
when grown from seed. Refrigerate the seed in damp sand for three
months before sowing.
Species maples are worth the adventure to find.
Mail order sources: www.forestfarm.com, www.mendocinomaples.com
Local sources: Carman's Nursery (408) 847-2313, West Side Nursery
and About Magazine
owner of Carman's Nursery, Nancy Schramm and her husband recently
moved the nursery from Los Gatos to Gilroy where they have lived
for 24 years. The nursery is known for growing rare and unusual
plants including bonsai starters, dwarf conifers, rock garden
plants and (of course) less common fruiting plants. Nancy has
been a member of the Western Horticultural Society since 2003.
She follows in the footsteps of her father Ed Carman, the founder
of Carman's Nursery. Ed was one of the charter members of the
Western Horticultural Society and also served on the first Board.
Contact Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org