Know your: Maples

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19 Feb 2020

Maples deliver magnificent autumn colour, especially after a dry summer, which crystallises the sugars in the leaf. Most at home in cooler climates, many colour up well in warm areas.



Here’s a quick guide to help you choose what’s right for you.

Trident maple

Acer buergeranum

ID: A handsome shade tree with a canopy of pretty, little, ivy-shaped leaves. Spring’s coppery growth ages to green, then colours up orange in autumn. The canopy becomes domed with age. Native to Eastern China. Height 6-10m.

Grow: Enjoys full sun and is moderately frost tolerant.


Fullmoon maple

Acer japonicum and cultivars

ID: This tree grows to 4-6m and broadens with age so that some cultivars look more like a large shrub than a tree. ‘Vitifolium’s’ serrated leaves turn brilliant orange; ‘Aconitifolium’ is admired for its delicate, fern-like leaves.

Grow: Morning sun and moist deep soil is preferred. Powerline friendly.


Smooth Japanese maple

Acer palmatum and cultivars

ID: These small shrubs are perfect for little gardens, courtyards and terraces. The draw is their coloured leaves, dwarf habit and weeping branches. Some have deeply cut, fine, feathery leaves. ‘Senkaki’ has eye-catching, coral-red bark in winter.

Grow: Prefers moist, slightly acidic, well-drained soil with protection from the afternoon sun and westerly wind.


Laceleaf maples

Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’

ID: These form mushroom-like mounds of intricate twisted branches. The purple or green, delicate, lace-like leaves colour vibrantly in autumn.

Grow: Perfect for pots or bonsai. Protect from hot winds in a protected spot and keep the root zone cool in warm areas by mulching with rocks.


Sugar maple

Acer saccharinum

ID: This is the tree that draws visitors to the deciduous forests between Quebec and New York in fall. It’s an excellent shade tree for parks and large gardens with beautiful foliage colour. It’s also the source of maple syrup, and the symbol on the Canadian flag.

Grow: This large tree prefers fertile, moist soil in cool climates.


Red Canadian maple, Lipstick maples

Acer rubrum cultivars

ID: This tree offers the best maple colour for Australian gardens. Our two favourites are ‘October Glory’ and ‘Fairview Flame’. The former has an upright habit and crimson leaves in autumn. See it in the courtyards of Parliament House in Canberra.

Grow: Is frost-hardy, likes full sun and reaches 12m high in 20 years.


Snake bark maple

Acer rufinerve, tegmentosum, davidii and pensylvanicum

ID: All produce lovely autumn colour and get their common name from lovely bark patterned with vertical, dark green to greenish-brown stripes, alternating with stripes of light green, pink or white. Height 5-15m.

Grow: Better in cooler climates, these trees typically occur in the understorey of mountain forests, often along streams.