Friday, October 17, 2014

Open Your Vertrees/Gregory Japanese Maple Book

I have frequently referred to, or quoted from, the "bible" of Japanese maples, the Vertrees/Gregory (from now on VG) Japanese Maples. J.D. Vertrees authored the first two editions, then passed away, and Peter Gregory revised and expanded two more editions, so that now the 4th is the most current. I possess all four, and if a 5th was to come out, I would instantly purchase that one too. The first edition was viewed as a "classic" plant book, the "definitive" publication, and was the first "comprehensive" work in English on Japanese maples. I was so inspired by it in 1978 that I went on to start my own nursery two years later.

I'm proud that the 4th editions contains many of my photos; and while I never received a cent for my contributions, I was given ten copies for free. I can criticize the book in a few minor ways, but overall every succeeding edition has been better than the previous.

So if I am critical, the implication is that I have some extra knowledge unknown or unverifiable to the publisher at Timber Press. And I do. But as a warning to those Flora Wonder Blog readers who are not particularly familiar with the myriad of cultivars, or those who do not own the book, the following discussion will possibly come across as boring nit-picking. I advise you to purchase a copy promptly, then you can follow along.

Acer circinatum

One "problem" I have is the inclusion of Acer circinatum and its cultivars, since the species is not native to Japan. True, you can graft circinatum onto palmatum, and vice versa, and the two species are often found together in extensive collections, but I would resist to add circinatum to a book entitled Japanese Maples. If you were to publish a book called North American Maples, you would not include Acer pycnanthum (a Japanese species) just because it is similar to (America's) Acer rubrum. Of course, it causes no harm to have a section devoted to circinatum, and Vertrees wondered if "there was once a land bridge connecting Alaska with East Asia, which allowed plants and animals to migrate between the two continents." I'm dubious of that because our three West Coast endemics, Acer circinatum, Acer glabrum and Acer macrophyllum didn't "wander" into Asia.

Acer palmatum 'Grandma Ghost'

It has been pronounced a number of times that I am a breeder with numerous selections, but I am not a breeder of anything – except children. Nature does the breeding here, and all I do is to gather seeds to grow, then set aside for observation the few seedlings that interest me. One such seedling was eventually named 'Grandma Ghost'. VG suggests that it "needs protection from afternoon sun." Well, we all do in the middle of an Oregon summer, but I have 'Grandma Ghost' growing in the field in full sun, and it handles the heat quite well, especially since we have little or no humidity to assist the foliage.
Acer palmatum 'Mikazuki' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Mikazuki' in summer

Another seedling selection (of unknown parentage) is Acer palmatum 'Mikazuki'. Its name refers to the crescent-shape of emerging new leaves. I named it, but in hindsight I wished I had given it a different name because the leaf shape is not "crescent" on all lobes, nor all the time. I would agree with what VG says about the selection, except that my photo on page 187, claiming to be fall color was actually taken in early spring, and the VG photo of spring looks like my tree in summer.

Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost'

Acer palmatum 'Shigitatsu sawa'

Acer palmatum 'Beni shigitatsu sawa'

Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost' was a seedling selection in the "Ghost Series." I'm not the one who coined the Ghost Series and I can't remember who first did. I don't accept the VG suggestion that 'Purple Ghost' arose as "a seedling of 'Shigitatsu sawa', with the probable pollen parent of 'Kasagi yama'." In fact, the mother-tree was a 'Kasagi yama' planted in the middle of the Flora Wonder Arboretum's Blue Forest, and it was never near a 'Shigitatsu sawa' ever, since the latter have always been grown by us in containers in the greenhouse. VG suggests that 'Shigitatsu sawa' is more vigorous than its red counterpart 'Beni shigitatsu sawa', but I find the opposite to be true. We grow 'Shigitatsu sawa' in the greenhouse because it is slow-growing and compact, and with the additional heat and protection indoors we can encourage additional growth versus outdoors.

Acer palmatum 'Geisha Gone Wild'

Acer palmatum 'Geisha'

Acer palmatum 'Geisha Gone Wild' did not originate as a seedling from 'Geisha', as VG claims, but rather as a mutation, a "wild" mutation at that. VG writes that "By a strange coincidence, a similar seedling of 'Geisha' with similar variegated leaves was selected and named 'Shirazz' in New Zealand..." Not so, as 'Shirazz' was also a branch mutation. 'Geisha' itself is very unstable, and out of a group of fifty, at least five-to-ten plants will throw out a more vigorous shoot; and maybe all of them eventually would if you kept them long enough. I've even had 'Geishas' go 'Bloodgood' in portions, and one tree in particular was entirely 'Bloodgood'-like. I kept it for a few years and it never changed, so it was eventually dumped. 'Shirazz' was introduced by the now departed Duncan and Davies Nursery, and I find it preposterous that they once claimed that 'Geisha' was a hybrid of palmatum and circinatum. The 'Geisha Gone Wild' photo on page 136 was from a late-summer shoot, and though I took it, I would not have used it as representative of the cultivar.

Acer palmatum 'Goshiki kotohime'

In the first edition Vertrees calls Acer palmatum 'Goshiki kotohime' a "beautiful little plant," but that it is "quite difficult to propagate due to extremely short scions." I would disagree. The cultivar responds well to container production in a greenhouse, where we can achieve shoots of up to 18" long. These are hardened off by early September, and our grafting percentage (on average) is well over 50%. Soft-wood cuttings in June root as well as any plant that we grow, and over the years I would guess that we average 95%. So I say that 'Goshiki kotohime' is easy, or can be easy to propagate. But I know what Vertrees meant, because his specimen planted out in his landscape was typical of one in my landscape with short stubby growth. I wouldn't call it rare, according to VG, as I have sold thousands of little pots for just over four dollars apiece. I don't have a problem with calling 'Goshiki kotohime' a "true dwarf," but I disagree that it tops out at "1 m. (3' tall)," for in last year's specimen availability we listed some at 8' tall.

First purchased Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum'

Peter Gregory is given credit for the photograph of Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum' on page 319. Actually I took the photo, and you can see it in the photo library on our website. The tree is important for me because it was one of six maples that I originally purchased from Vertrees. I remember placing the order 34 years ago, and it was supposed to arrive via UPS. My box never showed up...until one day I noticed it next to a door which we never used. Even after ten days, the plants all recovered, but I almost killed the first six trees in my nursery. Eventually I was able to propagate from my 'Aureum', and I was proud that Vertrees would supply his customers with grafts that he purchased from me. Apparently he had poor luck and I did reasonably well.

Acer palmatum 'Amber Ghost'

Acer palmatum 'Amber Ghost'

Acer palmatum 'Grandma Ghost'

Acer shirasawanum 'Johin'

Also, I was not given credit for my photos of 'Amber Ghost' and 'Grandma Ghost'. On the other hand, I was given credit for 'Mon zukushi' which should go to someone else. In the handy compact publication of VG, also titled Japanese Maples, I am given credit for 'Amber Ghost', but then the plant in question is actually' Grandma Ghost'. The pocket guide uses my photo of Acer shirasawanum 'Johin', but wrongly labels it as palmatum, which is ridiculous because the seed samaras are clearly rising above the foliage. By the 4th edition, the species name has been corrected.

Acer palmatum 'Amagi shigure'

I first encountered Acer palmatum 'Amagi shigure' in Japan in spring of 2004. At first I thought that it was 'Purple Ghost', but how in the world would it have gotten to Japan at that time? Upon closer inspection I could see that the 'Amagi shigure' foliage was more red than the purple of 'Purple Ghost'. Fortunately my Japanese wife was with me and provided translation of the labels. There is no photograph in the VG 4th edition, but the text describes something different, a low growing cultivar with "bright green medium-sized leaves." That would be 'Amagi shuri', not 'Amagi shigure'. I went around the nursery looking for my one plant of 'shuri' to take a photo, but I couldn't find it. Oh well, we don't propagate it anyway, due to the name similarity to 'shigure', and also since we already propagate many green dwarves, so who needs another one? It's a shame all the same because those in the "know" love 'Amagi shigure', but those who don't might resist collecting a green dwarf, even though it's not. If I could choose only one for my yard, between 'Purple Ghost' and 'Amagi shigure', I would take the latter. For commercial purposes 'Purple Ghost' is the stronger of the two, and also it better withstands Oregon's brutal 100 degree summers.

Acer palmatum 'Hubbs Red Willow'

Acer palmatum 'Hupp's Dwarf'

Acer palmatum 'Hubbs Red Willow' is incorrectly listed as 'Hupp's Red Willow', while VG suggests that "The name has been misspelled as 'Hubb's Red Willow'." Not exactly, for the cultivar in question was named after Mr. Elwood Hubbs of Riverton, New Jersey, and was then introduced by Red Maple Nursery in Pennsylvania. So it's Hubbs, not Hupp's, and note that there is no apostrophe "s" in the correct name. However, there is a 'Hupp's Dwarf' – with the apostrophe – and that was selected by Barbara Hupp of Drakes Crossing Nursery in Silverton, Oregon. It's understandable how these similar names can get mixed up, but the difference between 'Hupp's Dwarf' and 'Hubbs Red Willow' is as different as 'Amagi shigure' and 'Amagi shuri' discussed previously.

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair' in fall

Acer shirasawanum 'Mr. Sun'

A little minor issue occurs with Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair', which I discovered in 1985 and introduced as 'Fairyhair' about twelve years later. In the 3rd edition, VG listed it as 'Fairy Hair' – two words. Since the "definitive" work made it two words, I acquiesced and changed my labels and plant listings to the VG version for the sake of nomenclatural unity. By that point in my life, I had learned to love and not fight, and what did it matter? Another little snit was Timber Press's publication of Acer shirasawanum 'Mr Sun' when I had named it 'Mr. Sun', with a period after the Mr. Duh.

Acer palmatum 'Red Wood'

Acer palmatum 'Japanese Sunrise'

VG are correct with their description of Acer palmatum 'Red Wood', except that it was selected by Edsal Wood*, not Edward Wood. But then nobody ever called him Edsal, for he was known as Ed. I don't know if it was a random seedling for sure, but I assume so. I don't have Ed Wood's 'Red Wood' anymore, and I guess I accidentally sold my last tree. Also we don't grow 'Sango kaku' anymore because everyone else does, and you can find them for cheap at the box stores. We do continue with the similar 'Japanese Sunrise', and I learned long ago that I don't need to have every damn cultivar.

Acer palmatum 'Beni otake'

*Another instance of misspelling Edsal Wood as Edward occurs with Acer palmatum 'Beni otake'.

Acer circinatum 'Burgundy Jewel'

Acer circinatum 'Burgundy Jewel' was discovered and named by Gordy Halgren of Peacedale Nursery in Washington state – not in Oregon as stated by VG. Halgren frequently bought circinatum seedlings in Oregon, however, and 'Burgundy Jewel' came from Drakes Crossing Nursery in Silverton, Oregon. Now, the grandson of the Drakes Crossing owner, Jason Hupp, keeps a sharp eye for the unusual, so there's not much that gets past him. There are a couple of other purple "vines" in the trade, and excluding these growers, everyone else declares 'Burgundy Jewel' to be the best.

Acer circinatum 'Sunglow'

Acer circinatum 'Sunglow'

Acer circinatum 'Sunny Sister'

Everything is accurate about the VG version of Acer circinatum 'Sunglow' except the last sentence: "It is very different from any other A. circinatum cultivar..." There were seven original seedlings discovered by Floyd McMullen of Portland, Oregon. I don't know if he kept one or more for himself, but he gave two to his friend, plantsman Reuben Hatch. Eventually I acquired both of the originals and named one 'Sunglow', and the second one I named 'Sunny Sister'. They are similar. I've never seen any of the others, so I don't know if they are all similar, and I doubt that the remaining five unknowns are in production, but I wish that I could locate them anyway.

Acer palmatum 'Squitty' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Abigail Rose'

The late Harold Johnston of Alabama raised two – or possibly more – seedlings of Acer palmatum that were extremely dwarf. He sent one to me "to try," but he warned that it was just a "squitty little thing." It prospered and I eventually named it 'Squitty'. Unknown to me at the time, he continued to grow and propagate his seedling, and eventually named it 'Abigail Rose', after his granddaughter. I would not have propagated 'Squitty' because the two are virtually the same, and I like the sound of Abigail Rose much better than Squitty. VG suggests that 'Squitty' is the smaller of the two, but I would disagree with that. The two photos on page 248 purportedly show 'Squitty' in the spring and one in the fall. Actually they are both spring shots, one taken with a flash, and the other in natural light.
Acer palmatum 'Kamagata' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Kamagata' in fall

Of the first six maples I received from Vertrees, one was his "dwarf" selection which he named 'Kamagata'. I saw the original seedling, and indeed it looked to be "delicate" and "dwarf." However when grafted onto vigorous green rootstock it is not so dwarf. I estimate this specimen is now about 25' tall by 30' wide, and I regret that Vertrees isn't around to see it. Oddly the 4th edition still contains the Vertrees missive of 36 years ago: "'Kamagata' is one of two cultivars I have chosen to name." But he also named, at some point, Acer shirasawanum 'Autumn Moon', Acer palmatum 'Yubae', Acer palmatum 'Koto ito komachi', Acer palmatum 'Hoshi kuzu' – and possibly others – besides the Acer palmatum 'Kamagata'.

Acer palmatum 'Keiser'

Acer palmatum 'Keiser' was also known as 'Keiser Wenatchee' – not 'Keise-Wanabee', as VG have it. It was propagated and named by the late Art Wright, and the Wenatchee part was possibly a code name indicating the original source. Or maybe not. We discontinued it long ago because it was prone to reversion, where the long narrow red lobes were competing with 'Bloodgood'-like leaves. In fact I don't remember growing even one that didn't revert. Now we have great improvements over 'Keiser', such as 'Hubbs Red Willow', 'Pung Kil' and 'Beni otake'.

Acer palmatum 'Kokyo'

Acer palmatum 'Kokyo'

Everything is correct with the description of Acer palmatum 'Kokyo', except I will add to the story. The sister of the famous Portland, Oregon gardener, Jane Platt, snitched the seed from a palmatum ablaze with red autumn color in the Imperial Palace garden in Tokyo. The name of this place is Kokyo, and I have toured the grounds myself. One of the seeds germinated and was planted out in the Platt garden, and I assume it is still there. It would never have received cultivar status, except by chance I happened to witness the coloration spectacle, and I was granted scionwood. If trees have feelings, then 'Kokyo' will be happy to know that she has mothered offspring, and they are now growing in many parts of the country. I wonder if any have made their way back to Japan, to keep the original tree company?

Author Peter Gregory

On the cover of the 4th edition is a quotation from the Washington Post: "The ultimate book about the aristocrat of trees." I guess the Washington Post is unaware of Masayoshi Yano's Book of Maples, published in Japan, a book with more cultivars listed, and in general better photography. But it too has its flaws. I could continue with the critique, but I suspect you have had enough. And again the 4th edition was a herculean project but a wonderful achievement. I don't know if there'll ever be a fifth edition, as Englishman Peter Gregory is getting long in the tooth. But I know that both Vertrees and Gregory had a lot of fun with their authorships.

P.S. Timber Press published the 1st edition in 1978, back when they were located in Forest Grove, Oregon, my hometown. Japanese Maples was their first book, but now they are known throughout the world for their horticultural publications, and have moved offices to Portland, Oregon.


  1. will try to post again...this was a great article...the books are very techinical and you can't go around trying to find these cultivars...i've called sources nearby and they just don't have them...time to take a trip to oregon...maybe next spring...

  2. Fascinating, as always
    I have both your A. circinatum "Sunny Sister" and "Sunglow" and though they are similar I think "Sunny Sister" is the best of all the circinatum cultivars.
    As to including them in VG, I am glad they did. A book on just circinatum would be pretty thin but they are so perfect for collectors of "Japanese" maples.

  3. This was fascinating! I'm going to come back and read it again tomorrow. Thank you! I always thought it was improbably he'd only name two... and to know the background stories and names of other cultivars! Great reading.

  4. I have a Hubbs red willow acer that seems to be reverting but I don't know to what. Instead of the bamboo-like leaves it is sending out large, dark green, 5 lobed leaves with red veins. Any idea

    1. Is it below the graft union? Might be your rootstock. Should be removed.