Plant Collector – Acer griseum

Acer griseum - it's mostly about the wonderful bark

Acer griseum – it’s mostly about the wonderful bark

Mention maples and most people think of the fresh spring foliage, the burgundy lacy look of some patio maples all summer and the glorious autumn colour. It is all about the foliage but not with Acer griseum which has nondescript green leaves all summer. No, it is primarily about the bark.

Often called the paper bark maple, Acer griseum is one of the best ornamental bark trees in the world. The old bark peels back in shiny, curled layers to reveal a matt skin below and it is all in glorious copper tones, often described as cinnamon in colour. The sight of light glowing through these bark curls is nothing short of magical and it is a visual delight which lasts all year.

It comes from Central China and it was not introduced to the west until the turn of last century, 1901 to be precise. It was clearly an immediate success because within 21 years, it had been given an Award of Merit by the Royal Horticulture Society in the UK. While it will get some height, maybe 8 metres over time, it remains generally narrow in form so doesn’t take up much space. The bark starts to show within 3 or 4 years of planting. Apparently it will colour up much better and put on a good autumn show of scarlet in cooler climates though I can’t say I have ever noticed it colour here.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.