Friday, December 14, 2012

Species of Maples Named for People

Acer palmatum

Acer saccharum

Acer platanoides

Acer japonicum

Acer carpinifolium

Acer morifolium

For the past couple of hundred years botanists have been analyzing maple species in an endeavor to systematically cubby-hole them based on various criteria. An Acer palmatum, for example, could be said to resemble the human hand with five finger-like lobes, while Acer saccharum, the "Sugar Maple," was distinguished by its sugary sap. Acer platanoides resembled Platanus, or a sycamore (plane tree). With Acer japonicum, the species name refers to its country of origin of course, as does Acer nipponicum, since Nihon jin indicates "one from Japan." Acer carpinifolium has leaves shaped like a hornbeam (Carpinus), while Acer morifolium has leaves sort of like a mulberry (Morus).

If I was Emperor of the Plant Kingdom, I would grant myself authority to rename all of the species, and it would just be tough luck if you didn't like it. I would choose the criteria based upon what was most critical, or obvious and whimsical to me. I would "lump" or "split" to my heart's content. And I would rename some after myself of course, and also for my friends. The Buchholz system wouldn't be any more of a hodge-podge than what we currently have.

C'mon, you know I'm not really that arrogant. It would be cool, though, to have a species named after oneself. I might choose to rename shirasawanum for myself, as I like and profit from that species. But let's give credit to Homi Shirasawa, a Japanese botanist, for he was considered the "Father of Japanese Botany," and so is certainly deserving of the species name. What I don't know is if he coined the species name himself, or was it by another botanist or committee of brown-nosers looking for future reciprocation?

Acer shirasawanum 'Sensu'

Acer shirasawanum 'Mr. Sun'

Acer shirasawanum 'Kawaii'

Acer shirasawanum 'Kawaii'

Acer shirasawanum 'Johin'

Acer shirasawanum 'Johin'

The shirasawanum species forms a small tree with a broad canopy. Hybrids can exist with Acer palmatum, and that is possibly the origin of some of our own introductions, such as 'Sensu', 'Mr. Sun', 'Kawaii', 'Johin' and others. The seed source of these cultivars was Acer shirasawanum, but in an open garden setting with plenty of palmatum neighbors. As I've explained before, if the cultivar's seed rises above the foliage we call it a shirasawanum, for we can't be certain whether or not it is a hybrid with any palmatum blood. In other words, Acer shirasawanum 'Red Dawn' exhibits dangling seed, and even though its seed parent might have been shirasawanum, I would not have called it so. Our introduction of 'Shira Red', which is almost identical to 'Red Dawn', has erect seed. Also understand that one Acer shirasawanum, in an open garden with palmatums, can have both "species" as offspring. Technically every flower on this one tree could receive pollination from a different source. Anyway, that's how I see it; but I'm always welcome to be corrected. I wish I could chat with Dr. Shirasawa about my theories, but I'm too late, for he lived from 1868 to 1947.

Acer x freemanii

Speaking of hybrids, Acer x freemanii was named for Oliver Freeman, a plant breeder at the National Arboretum. He crossed Acer rubrum (Red Maple) with Acer saccharinum (Silver Maple), and came up with a hybrid possibly more useful than either parent as a garden-worthy tree. Freeman wasn't just a maple guy – he hybridized magnolias too. Besides spending near eternity in the herbarium, "he did research on blueberry cultivation and hybridization." (Whittemore, US National Arboretum). By the way, research on people I don't know can be dicey. Freeman was born in 1891 and died in 1969, but another source says he died in 1979. In Beaulieu's An Illustrated Guide to Maples, Freeman was a plant breeder at the Arnold Arboretum, while the US National Arboretum claims him as their own. And no, he didn't work at both, nor did he die two times.

I like the various cultivars, but I don't grow any Acer x freemanii because Oregon's shade tree growers produce them by the many thousands, and have recently been dumping them by the many thousands. The two photos above were taken in Belgium a year ago, where one tree had yellow fall color and the other orange. The hybrid accounts for a tough, low maintenance tree, and I wouldn't mind owning one, but I would prefer if someone would first find a dwarf form.

Acer maximowiczianum

Lilium leichtlinii var. maximowiczii

Acer tschonoskii

Acer tschonoskii

Acer pictum 'Usugumo'

Acer capillipes

Acer barbinerve

Acer argutum

Acer maximowiczianum was named for the Russian botanist Carl Maximowicz (1827-1891). "Max," we'll call him, was actually born a Baltic German, and was named Karl Maksimovich. He changed his name himself, for some reason, for his scientific work, and eventually became Curator of the Saint Petersburg Botanical Gardens herbarium, then finally Director. Max had a few plants named in his honor, such as Betula maximowicziana, Picea maximowiczii and Lilium leichtlinii var. maximowiczii, which I grow, and even a vole – Microtus maximowiczii. But, an even greater accomplishment was that he described and named over 2,000 plants that were previously unknown to science. Among them are Acers tschonoskii, pictum, capillipes, barbinerve and argutum. Acer pictum 'Usugumo' is my favorite of the lot.

Acer maximowiczianum 'Metallic Gold'

Acer griseum

Acer triflorum

Acer mandshuricum

Acer x 'Cinnamon Flake'

Actually I don't even grow Acer maximowiczianum, although I've seen a nice specimen in Seattle's Japanese Garden, and also in Nikko, Japan, where it is native (and also known as nikoense). For years I have tried to acquire the cultivar 'Metallic Gold', which nobody seems to know about, having only seen it in one garden in Japan. Maximowiczianum grows too large for me to bother with, and also its close relatives griseum, triflorum and mandshuricum are better trees I think. We also grow x 'Cinnamon Flake' which is a griseum x maximowiczianum hybrid.

Armand David, a French Catholic priest, was sent to China in the 1860's. He had a focused interest in the natural sciences such as geology, zoology and botany, and was in China at the perfect time for plant discoveries and introductions. But he sent back to Paris more than just plants. His efforts include 200 species of wild animals (including the first Panda), 800 species of birds, and a lot of reptiles and fishes.

Davidia involucrata

Acer davidii

Acer davidii 'Serpentine'

Acer davidii 'Hanshu suru'

Acer davidii 'George Forrest'

Acer davidii 'George Forrest'

Acer davidii 'George Forrest'

Dali, Yunnan, China

Yunnan, China

Father David's trees are some of my favorites, such as Pinus armandii and Davidia involucrata, as well as Acer davidii. "David's Maple" is a medium-sized tree with a spreading crown and gracefully drooping branchlets. The trunks on old specimens can be fantastic, especially the cultivar 'Serpentine'. 'Hanshu suru' displays gorgeous variegated leaves but the coloring is not very stable, and sadly we have discontinued to propagate it. Acer davidii 'George Forrest' was introduced by the great Scottish collector who made several trips to China, including seven to Yunnan province, where I have been once.

About the same time David was in China, so was Ernst Faber, a German Protestant missionary. He was considered one of the foremost of Chinese scholars of his time, and produced works on theology, history and botany. Faber was tolerant of other religions, and noted the similarities between Christianity and Confucianism, as both shared the Golden Rule, moral duty and virtuous government beliefs. Nevertheless he was a Christian missionary, and his goal was to convert the "mind" of the Chinese.

Acer fabri

Acer fabri

Ernst Faber collected Acer fabri in southeastern China in 1887. It is an evergreen tree, and only hardy to USDA zone 8. My oldest stock tree was kept in a greenhouse until it got too large, then I sold it to a Californian. No one had a clue what it was, and I would field guesses such as Ficus, Prunus etc., but then I would point out the tiny winged samaras. Best of all is Acer fabri's lush chocolate-purple new growth in spring. As with many evergreen trees, there is not fall "color," for the old leaves would only drop once the new growth began in spring.

So, there you have some maple species named for people. Next week I'll continue with more, and I especially can't wait to get to Philipp Franz Balthasar von Seibold.

The Flora Wonder Blog Process

At some point every week I panic to realize that a new blog is due on Friday. If I skip even one Friday I could lose momentum and never do them again. I know that many of you wouldn't care of course, but for those of you who do like to learn about trees I persist.

First I dream up a theme, then I hand write the text, and then give it to Seth to type up. Seth is about ten times faster than I am. I choose the photos and Seth and I decide where they go. Seth is very skilled, and much faster than a typical office employee. For example, he can type out Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Special Variegated' in the blink of the eye. Also, he has learned how to read my mind, when most people would never want to go there. So that's why I say, "No Seth, no blog."

On Fridays, Seth publishes the blog and I check it for errors. If I spot a problem after Seth leaves at 4:30, I'm out of luck until the next Monday, as Seth has learned not to answer his phone after 4:30. Anyway the blogs are a process, and not just me; so thanks to Seth.

Hello, I'm Seth!


  1. Dr. Kyle Brown aka "Palmdoctor"December 14, 2012 at 4:51 PM

    I love maples, especially ones that are a challenge here in North Florida (between Jacksonville and Lake City). Keep up the good work, blog that is!

  2. 1979 is the correct death year for Freeman according to the Florida State Death Index and the Social Security Death Benefit Index.