Guide to Japanese Maple Trees

Written by nicole papagiorgio
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Guide to Japanese Maple Trees
Some gardeners style their Japanese maple into a bonsai tree. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

The Japanese maple, which has the Latin name Acer palmatum, is a species of maple tree common in residential landscaping. There are many types of Japanese maple, and it can be a versatile, easy to care for and gorgeous addition to any garden plan. The Japanese maple grows best in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 to 8.


The Japanese maple is native to Japan, China, Mongolia, South Korea, North Korea and the southeastern part of Russia. No matter which country it is found in, the Acer palmatum always is called the Japanese maple or smooth Japanese maple.


Like all maples, the Japanese maple produces seeds with feathery appendages that spin as they fall to the ground. Most Japanese maples can reach heights between 18 and 30 feet, but several cultivars are smaller. The leaves of the Japanese maple tree have between five and nine lobes and usually turn bright red in the fall. They are 2 to 5 inches across and can flower with small purple-red flowers, depending on the cultivar.


There are more than 1,000 cultivars of Japanese maple throughout the world, with more being created each year. In North America, there are about 400 cultivars available. These cultivars are created to withstand most growing conditions. The most popular Japanese maple cultivars are ones with bright red leaves, but some have bronze, purple, green or green leaves with red edges. There are three subspecies of the Japanese maple: the palmatum, the amoenum and the matsumurae.


Most Japanese maples require at least partial shade, but a few Japanese maple cultivars grow in full sun. All Japanese maples should be protected from heavy winds and provided with well-drained, moist and nutrient-rich soil.

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