The Paperbark Maple is a little-known tree that is eagerly sought out by knowledgeable gardeners for its beautiful and unique peeling bark. Always looking different, and in striking shades of orange and cinnamon, the bark is the main, but not the only, feature of this tree. It has spectacular fall coloring, turning dramatic shades of red, orange and ever pink as the cooler weather arrives. It grows into the perfect small tree for smaller gardens, or as an accent tree in larger ones. It will grow steadily to around 10 or 20 feet tall, with an upright, attractive oval form. Eventually it may reach 30 feet, but it will never grow into a giant tree. This makes it ideal for a smaller space. It can also be grown for years in a large pot, as a unique patio specimen, and it is very popular as a bonsai tree too.
- Unique peeling orange-cinnamon bark
- Spectacular fall colors or red, orange and pink
- Perfect small shade or decorative tree
- Problem-free and easy to grow
- Rarely-available connoisseurs tree
Either a sunny or partially-shaded spot is ideal to grow the Paperbark Maple. It will grow in any kind of soil that is well-drained but not dry. It has a slight, but not very significant, preference for slightly acidic soils. This tree does need regular watering, even when older, as it is not particularly drought-resistant. It has no pests or diseases, and needs no special care or pruning. It is best to prune away lower branches as it grows, so that it develops a clear lower trunk and lower branches. This will show off the beautiful bark most effectively.
When choosing trees for the garden, we look for different features that make a particular tree interesting. Perhaps it is attractive foliage, fall color, flowers, or maybe suitable size or the ability to withstand drought. Although we might take some interest in the bark, it is not usually top of our list – but sometimes it should be. There are some trees where the bark is the most outstanding feature, and because special bark is not very common, this unusual feature is worth seeking out. For the best gardens, we should choose plants with as many different features as possible. This is where the Paperbark Maple comes into the picture. Of the relatively small number of plants with attractive bark, this tree stands out as la crème de la crème.
The Paperbark Maple has bark that is a handsome cinnamon-orange color. It peels away in large, papery strips, creating rich textures and great beauty. Everyone who sees this tree is struck by the beauty of the bark effects, which are always changing with the seasons and never look the same on any different day. The bark strips curl, hang, and open out in fascinating and varied ways. The bark does not fall, but remains attached in thinner and thinner strips, until it naturally wears away. Along with the remarkable bark coloring, the effect is extremely attractive and unique in the plant world.
Growing Paperbark Maple Trees
The tree itself is attractive, and very valuable in any garden. It grows into a small, upright tree of an oval shape with slim, upright branches. It grows steadily at up to 12 inches a year until it reaches 15 or 20 feet tall, and then grows more slowly to eventually reach no more than 30 feet tall. In a small garden this is an ideal size for a shade tree, a background tree, or to block a neighboring window.
Although it is a Maple, the leaves are not at all typical of those trees. Each leaf is divided into three parts, each one slightly separated from the others, but all on a single short stalk from the stem. The leaves may not look like Maple, but they do turn spectacular shades of orange red and pink in fall, rivaling the other Maples Trees for fall beauty. This is a second valuable garden feature of this plant, making it a great addition to any garden. We know that this is a maple because after the clusters of small yellow-green flowers that come in spring, bunches of typical maple ‘keys’ form, which turn brown by fall and hang on the tree in winter, a third attractive feature of this tree.
Planting Location and Uses in the Garden
Because the bark, and the fall color, are the major features of this tree, plant it where the trunk can be seen all the way to the ground – perhaps in a lawn, beside a terrace or at the edge of a bed, with just some very low ground-cover plants underneath. It is also a perfect choice for planting beneath large deciduous trees, along with Japanese Maples, Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Camellias, and other plants that enjoy the partial shade of woodland conditions.
Because of its smaller size, it makes a great container plant as well, growing in a large tub or pot. It will grow this way for many years, adding interest and beauty to a terrace, patio or balcony. It is also popular for its bark and fall color with bonsai growers – a unique tree for a unique hobby. This tree is not difficult to grow in any well-drained soil that does not become too dry. This is not a drought-resistant tree, so moisture is always important, but it does not like constantly wet soil.
History and Origins of the Paperbark Maple
The Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) was discovered by the famous plant collector Ernest Wilson, growing in central China. He sent seeds to Veitch Nurseries in England in 1899, and the tree was first available in 1901. A few years later the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University introduced it into America.
If you are looking for something different for your garden, that is not hard to grow, attractive, and not too large, with spectacular fall coloring and striking, unique bark – this is it. You will not regret trying something different and growing this lovely tree, which will soon become a favorite. However, there are many people out there thinking that way too, and our supplies are limited. To enjoy the chance to grow a rare, but easily-grown very special tree.