Share

Tree of the Month: Acer griseum, Paperbark Maple

Posted: February 4, 2013

Paperbark maple is an ideal specimen tree, and is well suited for use in small yards. It can be grown at the edge of the woods, or possibly planted in small groves or allées.
The cinnamon-brown, exfoliating bark is the star of this tree’s show. Photo: Michael C. Masiuk

The cinnamon-brown, exfoliating bark is the star of this tree’s show. Photo: Michael C. Masiuk

The paperbark maple is native to central China and was originally introduced to the United States by E. H. Wilson in 1901, through the Arnold Arboretum. This lovely small tree has become a favorite ornamental of temperate climate gardeners around the world.

Paperbark maple matures to 20-30 feet tall with a spread roughly half the height. Its growth habit ranges from upright oval to rounded to irregular. This slow growing tree puts on 6-12 inches of growth annually. The overall texture in all seasons is fine to medium-fine.

If the word “maple” brings a certain leaf shape to mind, it does not apply to the paperbark maple. Rather than the familiar three to five lobed leaves, paperbark maple leaves are trifoliate – each leaf is comprised of three leaflets, making it resemble poison ivy more than a sugar maple! The opposite leaves range from a refreshing blue green to rich dark green in summer. Fall color can be a spectacular red, but, as often as not is more of a bronze or muted red-green-brown. Paperbark maple is the last of the trifoliate maples to color in fall.

The cinnamon-brown, exfoliating bark is the star of this tree’s show. Young stems are deep, luxuriant brown to reddish brown, and usually begin to exfoliate in their second year. Mature stems exfoliate in thin sheets, revealing rich reddish-brown tones beneath. Old trunks lose some of their exfoliating character, but retain the striking color. The bark also appears polished smooth in places, reminiscent of the satiny appearance of many ornamental cherry trees. A frosting of snow is the perfect complement to the richly colored bark.

Paperbark maple grows best in full sun to part shade and moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil. However, it adaptable to pH and tolerates clay as long as it drains well. This relatively pest-free tree also is unlikely to become a pest itself because the samaras are often void. This poor seed production is a frustration for propagators, but significantly reduces the possibility that paperbark maple will make a weed of itself.

Paperbark maple is an ideal specimen tree, and is well suited for use in small yards. It can be grown at the edge of the woods, or possibly planted in small groves or allées.

Hybrids between Acer griseum and Acer nikoense (Nikko Maple), another trifoliate Asian maple, exhibit finely exfoliating bark with the same cinnamon brown color. Two named cultivars have been selected:

  • ‘Cinnamon Flake,’ introduced by Dr. Sid Waxman at the University of Connecticut.
  • Gingerbread™ (‘Ginzam’), introduced by Lake County Nursery.

Contact Information

Sandy Feather
  • Extension Educator, Green Industry
Email:
Phone: 412-482-3454