The Japanese green leaf maple tree (Acer palmatum) is a deciduous tree sometimes called the smooth Japanese maple; the common name is simply Japanese maple tree. Popularly associated with elegant Japanese gardens, the tree is found in seemingly countless variations of the size, shape and color of its leaves. The wild Japanese maple has green leaves in the spring and summer that turn bronze, bright red, purple or yellow in the fall; these colors vary from specimen to specimen.
The Japanese maple grows 15 to 25 feet tall and 10 to 25 feet wide with multiple trunks joined close to ground. Younger trees resemble inverted pyramids; maturing trees are dome-shaped with a dense top and spreading, layered branches.
A parent Japanese maple tree may produce seedlings that have completely different shape, sizes and structures than the parent plant as well as different colors of fall leaves. A Japanese green leaf maple tree is usually propagated by budding, grafting, cuttings and tissue culture. More than 1,000 cultivars have been developed, usually for different sizes of tree or altered shapes and colors of leaves.
The Japanese green leaf maple evolved in the shady, woody environments of China and the southern Japanese islands. It does well in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 8, thriving in shade with dappled light. The Japanese maple does not do well in the direct sun, which can cause it to suffer leaf scorch. It likes well-drained soil that is evenly moist. The Japanese maple should not be allowed to dry out because of drought, wind or too much sun.
Leaves and Flowers
The attractive, wide leaves are 2 to 5 inches long. They have five, seven and sometimes nine small pointed lobes. Their fall color varies. The flowers come in convex clusters and have five purple or red sepals and five white petals. The flowers are not striking from a distance and must be viewed closely to be appreciated. They give the bare branches an attractive red glow in early spring.
The tree produces fruit in the form of samaras, 3-inch-long winged pods each containing a single seed. The samaras enable to seed to be blown with the wind. The seeds of the Japanese green maple must be stratified, that is, subjected to a period of cold, before they will germinate.
The Japanese green leaf maple is generally regarded as a slow grower. The trees are often planted as ornamental trees flanking paths and bordering gardens and garden ponds. Its roots are not invasive. It can be grown in a container as bonsai.