This is the first segment of a three part series on Japanese maple cultivars.
Japanese maple is a species of tree often used for cultivation. For over three centuries, Japanese horticulturalists have developed cultivars from maples found in Japan, Korea, and China. Cultivars are available for commercial use in retail stores and garden centers across Europe and North America. The following examines some of the most frequently selected cultivars of Japanese maple, including ‘Aka Shigitatsu Sawa’, ‘Aoba Jo’, ‘Atropurpureum’, ‘Bloodgood’, ‘Burgundy Lace’, ‘Butterfly’, ‘Chitose-yama’, ‘Crimson Queen’, ‘Dissectum’, ‘Dissectum Atropurpureum’, ‘Emperor’, ‘Garnet’, and ‘Golden Pond’.
‘Aka Shigitatsu Sawa’
‘Aka Shigitatsu Sawa’ is a small cultivar of Japanese maple that reaches a height of 8 to 10 feet, with an 8 to 10 foot spread. It grows at a slow rate, and develops a rounded form. Corymbs of red flowers emerge from the plant in mid spring. The fruit is not ornamentally significant. The cultivar features attractive creamy white foliage with tinges of pink, and green veins. The leaves are palm-shaped, and turn a vibrant red in fall.
The ‘Aoba Jo’ Japanese maple is a popular dwarf cultivar. It grows up to three feet tall and wide at maturity. Structurally, this cultivar creates a dense, rounded crown. It grows well in containers, and makes for an exemplary bonsai display. Bright green leaves with red edges emerge in spring, retaining their color through summer. Leaves fade into light shades of yellow and red in fall.
‘Atropurpureum’ is a small deciduous tree with delicate, upright branches. This cultivar reaches a height and spread of 15 to 25 feet. It forms multiple trunks, and a moderately dense canopy. Flowers and fruit are red. The lacy leaves are finely-divided, and emerge a deep red in spring. They soon brighten, becoming a light green in early summer, before turning a rich golden orange, purple or red in fall.
‘Bloodgood’ is one of the hardiest cultivars of Japanese maple. It is a slender tree with a slow growth rate that reaches between 15 and 20 feet in height and width. This cultivar is distinguished by its burgundy red foliage that turns a brilliant scarlet in fall. The leaves can develop tinges of green if exposed to full sun. The tree’s blackish red bark is another notable characteristic. The bark provides striking contrast to landscapes in winter.
‘Burgundy Lace’ is a small, open-branched tree that grows between 10 and 12 feet tall and wide. It displays deeply-lobed, finely-serrated burgundy red leaves on upright branches. ‘Burgundy Lace’ provides a lacy effect that complements green-leaved plants, and flowers.
‘Butterfly’ Japanese maple is a small tree or shrub that has a slow growth rate. It reaches a height of 7 to 9 feet, with a spread of 5 to 6 feet. The small size of this cultivar enables it to be grown in containers. Its blooms are inconspicuous. Branches become flush with green foliage that is silvery white along the margins. New spring growth is tinged with pink. Leaves turn a scarlet magenta color in fall.
‘Chitose-yama’ is a medium sized shrub with a compact, mounding growth habit. It can reach between 5 and 7 feet in height and width. Small, purple flowers emerge in spring, followed by elongated winged fruits. The leaves are initially light red, later becoming bronze-green. Each leaf has seven tapering lobes that are divided almost to the base. In fall, they turn an attractive scarlet color.
‘Crimson Queen’ is a low-branching, dwarf tree with a weeping growth habit. It grows up to 10 feet tall and wide at maturity. The foliage on this cultivar holds a deep crimson color throughout summer. Its cascading branches turn bright scarlet in autumn. The color of the foliage may be intensified if exposed to abundant sunlight.
‘Dissectum’ is a small cultivar of Japanese maple with a slow growth rate that reaches between 10 and 15 feet in height and width. It has a weeping growth habit, with cascading branches. Red flowers emerge in spring, followed by hard elongated fruits. Leaves are star-shaped and lobed, appearing green before turning a vibrant orange in fall.
The ‘Dissectum Atropurpureum’ Japanese maple is a small mounded tree that has a slow growth habit. It reaches a height of 15 feet, with a spread of about 20 feet. Red flowers and fruits emerge in spring. Dark red, simple leaves are finely divided into lobes. The leaves retain their red color through most of the summer; some may turn greenish red in hot weather. In fall, leaves deepen to a reddish-purple.
‘Emperor’ is one of the most ideal Japanese maple cultivars for colder climates. Its leaf buds open later in spring, enabling it to avoid frost damage. This cultivar is a moderate grower, reaching a height and width of 15 feet. Its flowers and fruit are inconspicuous. Its foliage is showy and colorful. Attractive dark red foliage turns a brilliant scarlet in fall. Another notable trait is the tree’s blackish red bark, which contrasts with the landscape in winter.
‘Garnet’ is a small tree with a pendulous, spreading growth habit. It develops slowly, reaching a height and width of 10 feet. Flowers bloom in spring. Lacy, dark red leaves that are deeply cut emerge on branches, retaining their color into fall. This cultivar is attractive to birds, and moderately resistant to deer.
‘Golden Pond’ is a hardy cultivar of Japanese maple with a slow growth habit. It reaches around 10 feet high, and 15 feet wide. Large reddish brown leaves emerge in spring. The red tones slowly fade to deep green by late spring. By summer, the leaves transition to yellow, and feature orange accents. They continue to brighten into fall, turning a rich golden yellow.