For many people, the term "Acer" has come to mean merely the Japanese Maples, particularly Acer palmate. They are a large and rapidly increasing group of shrubs and small trees but there is much more to the genus than just this group. They are a genus of plants that are very popular because of the great many different ways in which they are beautiful.

Acer is also the genus of the Sycamore. Acer pseudoplatanus "Brilliantissimum" is a distinctive small tree of slow growth. The young leaves are a glorious shrimp-pink that later change to pale yellow-green before finally becoming green.

The Box elder (Acer negundo) is also included in this genus and is not an elder at all. Acer negundo "Flamingo" left to its self will reach small tree size but if pruned hard each winter it will make a bushy shrub and the leaf colour will be more effective. The young leaves have a broad, soft pink margin that changes to white.


The Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) is a large, fast growing tree from North America with leaves that are silvery-white beneath. The foliage creates a delightful effect when it is ruffled by the breeze. It often provides attractive autumn hints but care must be taken to protect the Silver Maple from high winds.

The Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is another large tree from East North America and like the Sugar Maple (Acer saccarum) it is fairly lime tolerant but does not take on its autumn colour so well on chalk. The Red Maple leaves do colour early, becoming brilliant red and remaining so for a comparatively long time.

The Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) is a hardy adaptable tree found throughout the northern hemisphere and are well suited to this region. Although they can be a fast growing tree and eventually get quite large they can be easily pruned to confine its spread for many years. They will grow in almost any soil type, sun or partial shade and are sufficiently robust to be grown in an exposed position. There are many cultivars available selected for their colouration such as the dark purple of "Crimson King" or the variegated leaves of "Drummondii" and the golden-yellow cultivar "Princeton Gold". They are generally free of serious diseases though can become affected by Powdery Mildew.

Beautiful bark is also found on many species of Acer and included in this group are the Coral-barked Maple and the Snake-barked Maple which has a patterned bark of cream or white on green or russet. Acer palmate "Senkaki" is a large shrub or small tree which leaves turn canary-yellow in autumn and has a highly attractive coral-red bark which is excellent for winter effect.

The Japanese |Maples offer a wide variety of foliage and are available in small shrub size up to fifteen feet or more. They can sometimes be quite difficult to grow. They prefer partial shade and their delicate lobed foliage will soon turn brown and crispy if they are exposed to strong winds. Late frosts can also damage their leaves. They naturally grow under the protective canopy of large trees so it's a good idea to try to replicate these conditions. Grow them in a sheltered spot and make sure the roots are kept moist during the summer months. Acer palmatum "Dissectum ornatum" has bronze-tinted leaves turning rich red in autumn. It makes an excellent plant for a container, filled with ericaceous compost.

[First published in the March 2009 Newsletter]

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