Friday, February 13, 2015

Experts Pick Favorite Maples

A friend let me borrow the Fine Gardening magazine from December, 2014, for it contained an article by Michelle Gervais entitled Experts' picks [sic]: The best [sic] Japanese maples. Sic is a Latin adverb meaning "thus," or sic erat scriptum for "thus was it written," or in other words: it wasn't me who made it up. I don't hold M.G. responsible for the curious use of the upper and lower case letters in the title, but rather the magazine's editorial board. But then, maybe they're onto some zippy new-age style that old-fogey Buchholz is not privy to.

In spite of the awkward title I thought it was a good presentation and well worth my time to read it; though frankly I don't agree with most of the opinions, while admitting that it still advances my cause as a grower and seller of Japanese maples. I thought it was a good angle to allow the "experts" to pick their favorite "varieties," ones "that will make your heart beat just a bit faster."

Acer nipponicum

Acer sieboldianum

Acer micranthum

Acer rufinerve

Wow, my pulse is now racing! M.G. starts out by suggesting that "There aren't many gardeners – beginners or experts – who don't love a Japanese maple (cultivars of Acer palmatum*, A. japonicum and A. shirasawanum...)." I agree – I don't personally know of any human being who doesn't love Japanese maples. But why just limit the discussion to only three species of Acer endemic to Japan, for "Japanese maples" also includes A. nipponicum, A. sieboldianum, A. micranthum, A. rufinerve and many more? The asterisk* leads us to "See invasive alert on page 83," whereby we learn that the Commonwealth of Virginia considers Acer palmatum to be invasive?...which I never knewed [sic] about, nor do my many customers in said Commonwealth.

Acer palmatum 'Olsen's Frosted Strawberry'

Acer palmatum 'Amber Ghost'

Acer palmatum 'Amber Ghost'

Acer palmatum 'Rainbow'

I don't suppose that the owners of Eastwoods Nurseries in Washington, Virginia were happy about the invasive status of Acer palmatum. In any case their choice for the best Japanese maple is Acer palmatum 'Olsen's Frosted Strawberry', with 'Amber Ghost', 'Lileeanne's Jewel' and 'Rainbow' being honorable mention. So I guess the folks at Eastwoods like variegated maples. I'm always happy when someone's favorite is one of my ghosts, though I sell far more 'Purple Ghost' than 'Amber Ghost'. As for 'Rainbow', I'm not so proud about it. 'Rainbow' can be spectacular, but at Buchholz Nursery we manage to push it out of its variegation. I wasn't familiar with 'Lileeanne's Jewel', so I went to to get the scoop, for the Nichols brothers – Matt and Tim – have amassed over a thousand cultivars. Their description calls it "a brand new introduction with a rare variegation of pink and white on a bright cherry red and heavily divided leaf." That sounds cheerful, but I wonder if I would have the same problems as with 'Rainbow'.

Acer palmatum seedlings from 'Aka shigitatsu sawa'

Acer palmatum seedling from 'Aka shigitatsu sawa'

Acer palmatum seedling from 'Aka shigitatsu sawa'

Acer palmatum seedling from 'Aka shigitatsu sawa'

Back to 'Olsen's Frosted Strawberry', the mother tree was Acer palmatum 'Aka shigitatsu sawa', according to Sue Olsen, whose late husband Harry was a keen maple enthusiast. Sue is a fern expert, and in her excellent Encyclopedia of Garden Ferns, on page 91, is a photo of an Adiantum pedatum with Acer palmatum HO19. While the HO19 was never named and introduced, it indicates that Harry Olsen had a good time raising palmatum seedlings. I have used 'Aka shigitatsu sawa' as well, and the photos (above) illustrate the exciting array of offspring that can be produced in an openly pollinated maple garden.

Acer palmatum 'Inaba shidare'

Acer palmatum 'Inaba shidare'

Matt Nichols, mentioned earlier, was charged with picking the best weeping cultivar, and he went with Acer palmatum 'Inaba shidare'. I doubt that Matt botched the name in the article because it is correct on his website. Fine Gardening had it as 'Inaba-Shidare' with the "s" incorrectly capitalized and a most unnecessary dash between the two words. Regular Flora Wonder Blog readers know that I obsess about these little details, but the rules are simple so just follow them. This old cultivar, according to Vertrees/Gregory in Japanese Maples, 4th edition, "has been listed in Japan since 1882..." and that it "Received the RHS Award of Garden Merit." Furthermore V/G explains that "in the rain this plant looks a little like ine ("a rice plant"), an old form of which turned crimson in the fall. Thus inaba is "leaf like a rice plant." The name shidare means "weeping" or "cascading," so the result is "a cascading, ricelike leaf." Perhaps a second cup of sake leads one to these conclusions.

Acer palmatum 'Shindeshojo'

Acer palmatum 'Shindeshojo' in Dr. Bump's garden

Acer palmatum 'Shishio Improved'

Robert Jamgochian at Mendocino Maples in California favors Acer palmatum 'Shindeshojo' as the best Japanese maple for spring color. It is similar to other fire-engine red cultivars such as A. p. 'Otome zakura', A. p. 'Shishio Improved' – an invalid name since it combines a Japanese name with an English name – and others. 'Shindeshojo', anyway, is a choice maple, and the word shin means "new" in Japanese, and it implies a new – and possibly superior – selection over the old 'Deshojo'. V/G suggests that 'Shindeshojo' will form a "shrub up to 3m (10 ft.) high and 2m (6 ft.) wide. No way. The above photo in Dr. Bump's garden in Forest Grove, Oregon, is evidence of a tree nearly 30 feet tall, and I would suggest that in Japan there is a specimen even larger.

Acer palmatum 'Katsura'

Acer palmatum 'Ariadne'

Acer palmatum 'Geisha Gone Wild'

Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream'

Acer palmatum 'Calico'

Acer palmatum 'Usu midori'

Acer palmatum 'Akane'

R.J. from Mendocino lists "honorable mentions" for best spring color as Acer palmatums 'Katsura', 'Ariadne' and 'Geisha Gone Wild'. In my opinion, since there are a lot of 'Katsura'-types, such as 'Orange Dream', 'Calico', 'Usu midori' and others, that A. p. 'Akane' has "the most spectacular" of the lemon-apricot foliage flushes. In mid-April a well-known plantsman spotted 'Akane' in the middle of our greenhouse, and he marched past 'Katsura' and 'Orange Dream' to get to the 'Akane' group, then pleaded for one. I didn't want to spoil his fun by relating that while the cultivar was vibrantly perfect on that day, my experience in Oregon is that we'll soon get a bright hot day – with no humidity – and that 'Akane' will burn. It has every year, and the fried leaves are absolutely not for a lack of water. Fortunately by August pretty new growth will flush, and then it's not so bad after all.

Titian's Buchholz and Ariadne

I was pleased that the Mendocino man included 'Ariadne' as an honorable mention. My favorite maple for spring color has been known to change, but currently I strongly favor 'Ariadne'. According  to Vertrees/Gregory, "The new young growth is especially attractive and noticeable, with yellow-green veining on pastel shades of light orange-pink-red marbled background." Lovely indeed, but unfortunately this beauty only lasts for two or three weeks (in Oregon) before 'Ariadne' becomes a non-event. 'Ariadne' was a selection made at Firma Esveld in Boskoop, and was named after one of D. M. van Gelderen's granddaughters. The name might be considered awkward to those not familiar with Greek mythology, but some have theorized that it derives from Cretan-Greek arihagne meaning "utterly pure."

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

One of the article's "experts" is Vince Dooley – a name I love to say – who was the former football coach at the University of Georgie. I'm impressed that a motivator of clashing titans is now an avid collector of Japanese maples for his Athens, Georgia garden. His favorite for the "best dwarf form" is Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa' (although Fine Gardening poorly renders it as 'Mikawa-yatsubusa'). The article claims that the mature size is "up to 5 feet tall and wide." Not to brag, but my largest specimen is already 14 feet tall by 16 feet wide, and is possibly worth more than the rest of my entire company. Dooley says "I get a lot of 'wows' in my garden over this little jewel." The North American branch of the Maple Society voted 'Mikawa yatsubusa' as "Maple of the Year" for 2015. I am a member of said society, but I don't recall ever receiving a ballot.

Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira'

Keith Johansson is founder and owner of Metro Maples in Fort Worth, Texas, and his choice for "most unique variety" is Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira'. You have to applaud anyone who can make a maple living in Texas, so when he says that 'Shishigashira' is easy-to-grow and sun-tolerant in his climate, the rest of America will share the same experience. Keith calls the spring leaves "an electric shade of green like no other you've seen." Then in the fall the leaves "turn orange-red to red and yellow." One reason he finds 'Shishigashira' "unique" is no doubt due to the crinkled leaves, but growers must occasionally endure the snide comment from maple novices, "Ooh, what weed killer did you spray on it?"

Acer palmatum 'Kurui jishi'

Acer palmatum 'O jishi'

Acer palmatum 'Kurenai jishi'

I wonder how other "crinkled" cultivars would do in Texas, such as 'Kurui jishi' (confused lion), 'O jishi' (male lion) and my favorite 'Kurenai jishi' (black lion). The Japanese name shishigashira refers to the mane of a mythical female lion, but again, maybe the second cup of sake leads the mind to lions.

Acer palmatum 'Koto no ito'

Acer palmatum 'Koto no ito' in the Buchholz Display Garden

Acer palmatum 'Kinshi'

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair'
Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair'

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair'

Sara Monte, co-owner of Wildwood Farm in Kenwood, California, considers Acer palmatum 'Koto no ito' the "best threadleaf variety," and says "'Koto-no-ito' [sic] was one of my first favorites – and even now that we've grown more than 250 different cultivars, I still love it." I love it as well, and note a 'Koto no ito' growing in our original Display Garden in the Flora Wonder Blog theme photo. There are numerous other green threadleafs, such as Acer palmatum 'Kinshi', whose lobes are slightly more narrow than with 'Koto no ito'. Of course I would have chosen Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair' because 1) I discovered and named it, and 2) the leaves are even more narrow and delicate-looking than the others. Vertrees/Gregory is accurate to call 'Fairy Hair' "a deceptively fragile-looking dwarf," but that it "can be grown in the open, without shade." Well, it looks better in August with some afternoon shade, but I find autumn foliage more vibrant if grown in full sun.

Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream'

Acer shirasawanum 'Jordan'

Acer palmatum 'Fireglow'

Acer palmatum 'Summer Gold'

Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream' was chosen as "best midsize tree" by Micah Norcom, owner of Maplestone Ornamentals in Alliance Ohio. 'Orange Dream' was introduced by the Fratelli Nursery of Italy, the same company responsible for Acer shirasawanum 'Jordan', Acer palmatum 'Fireglow', Acer palmatum 'Summer Gold' and others. Western gardeners must appreciate that the Italian firm used catchy English names for their selections.

Acer palmatum 'O sakazuki'

For the best large maple Patricia Smyth of Essence of the Tree in California selects Acer palmatum 'O sakazuki'. The old cup of sake cultivar is a strong grower with rather large green leaves that turn brilliantly red in autumn. Some might consider 'O sakazuki' to be just "regular" or perhaps boring in spring and summer, but not so in fall. I make this comment because while I appreciate it throughout each of its seasons, sales have dried up for 'O sakazuki', and the demand is far less than when I began my career. Matters were made worse when a large New Zealand company irresponsibly shipped an imposter clone into America by the thousands. It was not a bad tree, but it was not the true 'O sakazuki' already in the trade. I would encourage all readers to peruse this issue of Fine Gardening, if for no other reason than to see the excellent photo of 'O sakazuki' autumn foliage.

Lastly we come to a curious "expert," Douglas Justice, who is a member of the Maple Society and the curator of the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden. Let me be clear, I like Mr. Justice and I respect his knowledge of the Acer genus. And he is rather witty. But at the Maple Society conference in 2002 in England, he casually quipped that "the world certainly has enough palmatum cultivars." You see, the unjust Justice is a species guy. I countered that cultivars are like pretty girls: who could ever tire of another one? Also I predicted that the plethora of cultivars introduced since the conference in 2002, if put in book form, would rival all of previous 300 years of maple cultivation.

Acer palmatum 'Ukigumo'

Maybe Mr. Justice has studied palmatum cultivars in more depth in recent years. For his best variegated foliage he chooses Acer palmatum 'Ukigumo', which I think is a solid opinion. Mr. Justice calls it "an extraordinary small tree," and reminds us that "the Japanese name translates as 'floating clouds,' an entirely appropriate appellation for this lighter-than-air confection." Wow, confection! Get out the whip cream. But I guess the term is appropriate, as the colors of 'Ukigumo' do confect.*

*From Latin conficere, meaning to "put together."

Acer palmatum 'Japanese Princess'

It turns out that all of the experts in the Fine Gardening article are customers, or have been customers of Buchholz Nursery, with the exception of Vince Dooley and Douglas Justice. I bet that old Coach Dooley would be a customer if he could get his hands on one of 'Mikawa yatsubusa's' progeny, Acer palmatum 'Japanese Princess'. In fact I would be happy to give one away to Dooley and Justice. Coach could add it to his extensive collection while Justice could spruce up the look of his homeless shelter.


  1. every italian name have latin origin... for example P.Gregory write :Como il illegitmate name because have latin origin ... Girardellli named your cultivar in english for this problem? for me yes cultivar have a italian name Villa Taranto not many famous ! Acer caesium Giraldii too.Commercially the Italian launguage does not work in the world ;-)

  2. Thanks for taking the time to research and write these blogs. I so wish we could grow Japanese maples in South Florida. Our coldest temp of the year so far has been 38 degrees. and mostly in the 70 and 80's . not enough chill for Japanese Maples. I admire the pictures and someday soon hope to see Jap Maples in autumn color. We can grow a myriad of tropical plants here and we do, but always seem too busy to write about them. Hybridizing of Adeniums is proceeding at lightning pace since the 90's ...something you probably would have more trouble growing than us trying to do maples. Just wish we had a plant with leaf structure like palmatums. The Bald Cypress cultivars we purchased from you have mostly found homes and are doing well. Hope to get up to Portland area this summer or fall. Would surely like to see your maples in leaf, in color and without the rain. It was so miserable when I visited you and yet you were so gracious. I hate puddle jumping in the rain with customers here, especially with the sunny weather we have 95 percent or more of the time. Thanks and look forward to the next blog.

  3. Great write up - very much appreciated!!