id your tree: acer griseum

Recently, while scrolling through posts on Linkedin, I spotted a stunning photo (below), posted by the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, featuring the awesome bark of the Acer griseum (griseum: gray, referring to the underside of the leaves). It’s easy to love acers; stunning fall color – soft lacey leaves that grace our gardens and provide interest and shade, and the Acer griseum, commonly known as the Paperbark Maple, admired for the bark, is a perfect selection for many garden styles.

Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania

A native of China, but naturalized in the U.S., it was brought to England in 1899 by E. H. Wilson, British plant collector and explorer. Ernest “Chinese” Wilson (1876-1930) introduced more than 1900 Asian plant species to the West. Soon after its introduction to England, it was introduced to the United States by the Arnold Arboretum. A small (20-30′ tall & 15-25′ in width), slow growing, deciduous tree with distinctive purple-brown to red/burgundy bark, papery in texture and peeling back into curls revealing new cinnamon/rose-brown bark found on single or multi-stemmed trunks.

The Acer griseum is a true ‘all season’ tree that adds interest to the landscape year round. The upright branches and open habit are elegant and distinctive in the garden and its size and shape make it a great choice for patio, understory, woodland or rustic, Asian/Zen style, and most small space gardens. A favorite for winter interest with that amazing bark, it fits well into most garden themes, as both an accent tree and shade tree and is used in Bonsai.

The bark is a great way to identify this tree, but, it also has beautiful leaves and fall color. Long-lasting and showy, the leaf color green to gold/yellow changes to orange and red/burgundy in the fall, persisting into winter. The leaves are palmately compound trifoliate and arranged opposite. the margins are dentate, lobed with silvery fine hairs on the underside.

photo – left/top: Michigan State University – right/top University of Delaware – left/bottom: Pinterest – right/bottom: Gardenia.net

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: 4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b and Sunset Zones 2 – 9 and 14 – 21, It was chosen as a Great Plant Pick for the Pacific Northwest. The Paperbark Maple prefers moist soil conditions with good drainage, average to slightly acidic, and it does not tolerate drought conditions well.

Like most Acers, the griseum is susceptible to Aphids, Armillaria, Root Rot and Verticillium, but has a longevity of 40 to 150 years with low maintenance input and very little pruning. Growing as an understory tree in its Native Habitat, it prefers shade but can tolerate full sun, and is adaptable to varied soil types.

Some other tree id characteristics are:

photo – OSU – Acer griseum, Paperbark Maple, southside Kearney Hall on Campus Way, 5/5/19
  • Flower Color: Gold/Yellow, Green, Insignificant
  • Flower Inflorescence: Cyme, Insignificant
  • Flower Bloom Time: Spring
  • Flower Size: < 1 inch
  • Flower Description: Ornamentally insignificant flowers bloom from April-May.
photo – OSU
photo – OSU
  • Fruit Color: Brown/Copper
  • Display/Harvest Time: Fall
  • Fruit Type: Samara
  • Fruit Length: 1-3 inches
  • Fruit Description: A schizocarp of two samaras, 1 1/2″ long, wings divergent and with unusually large seeds.
photo – OSU turf plots, L-B Farm, 2/8/07
  • Stem Color: Brown/Copper, Red/Burgundy
  • Stem Is Aromatic: No
  • Stem Description: Brown to reddish brown.
  • Buds: < 1/4″, brownish-black, sharply pointed, scales imbricate
photo – OSU
photo – OSU East side of Dixon Lodge, 8/18/08

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