Japanese Cutleaf Maple
If asked to describe the most delicate and graceful plant they could name, most plant people would immediately think of the cutleaf Japanese maple.
These miniature trees are not much larger than the average shrub, usually growing to less than eight feet tall with an umbrella-shaped form that spreads 10 to 12 feet across. The round leaves are usually three inches long and cut with seven finger-like lobes that are deeply dissected, giving the leaf the appearance of living lace.
Leaf colors can be green, but most gardeners are more excited about the purple leaf types. My personal favorites are the green leaf types because they not only have beautiful foliage all summer, but in the fall, they take on delicate shades of yellow in the autumn landscape. The purple leaf types usually have less fall color, but some will turn red.
Japanese maples have been cultivated for centuries in Japan. They were first introduced to England in 1840 and made their way to the United States in 1862 when Dr. George Hall C the man responsible for introducing Japanese honeysuckle B provided seeds to Parsons and Co., a nursery in Flushing, New York.
Although these were the first Japanese maples in the country, only a few of the hundreds of cultivars were introduced from the East coast.
The great majority of fancy-leafed Japanese maple cultivars came across the Pacific with the wave of Japanese immigrants who settled in this country in the early years of this century.
The hundreds of cultivars remained largely unknown until a retired Oregon county extension agent, J. D. Vertrees, published his 1978 book entitled Japanese Maples. The book was not only the first book ever published on the subject in English, it was the first gardening book published by a then obscure publishing house called Timber Press.
The book quickly sold out and went through two editions and eight printings, helping establish Timber Press as the premier publishing house for gardening related books in the United States and made the diversity of the Japanese maple known to gardeners and nurserymen across the country.
Cutleaf Japanese maples are slow growing and, because of this, expensive. Trees three- to four feet tall are sold for more than $100 because they will usually be five to eight years old. The trees are often listed by their Japanese cultivar names, such as Inaba shidare or Tamakeyama, which give them an even more exotic character.
Good red cutleaf Japanese maple cultivars, in addition to the two listed here include Garnet and Crimson Queen. Good green cutleaf selections include Dissectum, Waterfall and Filigree.
In the landscape, these beautiful plants make the ideal specimen plant. They should be the focal point of a landscape scene and located where they will not be crowded by other trees or shrubs.
While they will grow in full sun, they seem to perform best in the South with high-filtered shade or where they get afternoon shade. Any good garden soil, so long as it has good drainage, will work. Plants exposed to overly dry conditions in the summer usually experience tip burn on the leaves.