Plant of the Day – Acer pictum, The Painted Maple

ARB-LogoBFin

There are a handful of maples that garner most of the gardening world’s attention – Japanese maples (Acer palmatum), red & sugar (A. rubrumA. saccharum), Norway (A. platanoides) and a smattering of others.  While these are all excellent garden plants and you would be hard-pressed to find many maples that aren’t beautiful, it seems that the painted maple (Acer pictum) often is over-looked.

A very old specimen at the Arnold Arboretum.

A very old specimen at the Arnold Arboretum.

Painted maple ranges across a wide swath of eastern temperate Asia from Siberia through Mongolia and Korea into China and along much of the Japanese archipelago.  It was first described in western literature by the Swedish botanist Karl von Thunberg in 1784 but was widely known as Acer mono after it was introduced to the west in the 1880’s.  It’s name continues to cause confusion with some authorities using A. pictum to cover the entire species while other botanists break it down into several subspecies including A. pictum subsp. mono.

The broad leaves and buttery fall color make a bold statement in autumn.

The broad leaves and buttery fall color make a bold statement in autumn.

By any name, it makes a wonderful small to medium-sized tree to about 40′ tall, ideal for suburban landscapes looking for a shade tree in scale with today’s smaller lot sizes.  Since it ranges over such a wide area, there is considerable variation in foliage but the typical forms found in cultivation have 5-7 lobes which usually have entire or smooth margins.  The lobes are not deeply incised and often form broad triangles.  Fall color is usually a rich, buttery yellow and the smooth bark found on most varieties is quite attractive.

The drool-worthy speckled foliage of Acer pictum 'Naguri Nishiki'.

The drool-worthy speckled foliage of Acer pictum ‘Naguri Nishiki’.

The Japanese have selected several variegated forms which can be exquisite additions to the garden.  My favorite, ‘Naguri Nishiki’ is heavily speckled with a dusting of white spots to the point where it is more white than green.  Another unusual form, sometimes known as the bat wing maple but more correctly as ‘Usugumo’, is also stippled with white but what sets it apart from other maples is the tissue between the veins.  It looks almost like umbrella fabric stretched between ribs of the umbrella (or like a bat wing I suppose).  It always elicits comment and discussion.  A third variegated form, ‘Tokiwa Nishiki’ has broad sections of its leaves sectored and splashed with white often with entire leaves lacking any green coloration.  I imagine it requires some selective pruning of reversions but it is widely used in Japanese landscapes.

'Tokiwa Nishiki' makes a striking statement in the garden - definitely not for the faint of heart.

‘Tokiwa Nishiki’ makes a striking statement in the garden – definitely not for the faint of heart.

Painted maples are easy in the landscape requiring a loose, well-drained soil.  Variegated forms may need some afternoon shade in hot climates and plants will appreciate supplemental water in dry spots especially while establishing.  In Japan I have seen various selections kept small through regular root and branch pruning in order to fit in smaller landscapes or large containers.

Follow me at @jcramark because life is too short for boring plants.

The odd bat wing-like foliage of 'Usugumo'

The odd bat wing-like foliage of ‘Usugumo’

Check out all the happenings, see more images, and learn more at the JC Raulston Arboretum where we are Planting a Better World.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Plant of the Day – Acer pictum, The Painted Maple

  1. Yang Min-Kyu

    professor, i have a question sir.
    is there any difference between Acer Pictum and Acer Pictum Subsp. Mono, sir?
    the name tells me that there must be the difference between mono and Non-mono sir.
    but really hard to find difference in google, and i’m korean student, so cannot see Acer Pictum in our country sir.
    if you don’t mind, can you reply this sir? i’m really desperate to know that sir.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Mark Weathington Post author

      Yang Min-Kyu – The differences are slight and many taxonomists disagree on the name of this maple. According to van Gelderen, they should all be Acer mono since he contends that Acer pictum is an invalid name. In any case, there is much disagreement over whether they constitute different varieties or subspecies or are just part of a large very variable species. A. p. subsp. pictum has short hairs on the backside of the leaf, while A. p. subsp. mono has no hairs on the abaxial surface. I hope this helps. – Mark

      Like

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s