Friday, May 24, 2019

Book For Maples

Masayoshi Yano

I was paging through Masayoshi Yano's Book for Maples (2003). The photographs are good – he was by his previous career a food photographer – but the brief plant descriptions are in Japanese with an awkward English translation. There are hundreds of plants listed, and even though some have finally made their way into America, there are still quite a few that I don't grow.

Acer palmatum 'Kotobuki'

Acer palmatum 'Ilarian'

Acer palmatum 'Murasaki Shikibu' is photographed and described, but I wonder why Yano (or the publisher) capitalizes the “S” of shikibu?* The cultivar was introduced in 1985, and as Yano writes, “As there are several similar cultivars, it is difficult to distinguish among them.” A.p. 'Kotobuki' is not in the book, but it, 'Mardi Gras' and 'Ilarian' can look similar – without labels I wouldn't know them apart. There can be quite a bit of variation in a crop of 'Kotobuki', with the most colorful usually growing smaller than those with more sparse variegation, and the same is true with 'Ilarian' and 'Mardi Gras'. At their best they can all look fantastic in the spring, with the photographer choosing to depict the most colorful portions.

Murasaki Shikibu

*Murasaki Shikibu was a Japanese novelist, poet and Lady-In-Waiting at the Imperial Court during the Heian period. She was author of The Tale of Genji (written between 1000-1012), considered the world's first psychological novel.

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

I'm always alert to any information about Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa' – listed as 'Mikawa yatsufusa' in Yano's book. He describes it as first recorded in the Sakata Shubyo Catalogue in 1972, a cultivar from Aichi Prefecture, located on the Pacific coast in central Honshu.* I'm keen on 'Mikawa yatsubusa' because 1)I've made tons of money growing it, 2) the world's largest is growing along the main road into Buchholz Nursery and 3) my champion is the seedling mother tree for many interesting offspring (such as 'Mayday' and 'Japanese Princess'). Yano doesn't reveal much else, just saying that “it is a dwarf suitable for bonsai” and that “the autumn foliage is beautiful deep red to yellow.” For me, it colors reliably orange in autumn.

*AKA the Tokai region, where it was found in the wild. The area used to be part of an older province called Mikawa. “Yatsubusa” usually refers to “dwarf” in maple cultivar names, but it actually means “eight tufts,” referring to its tufted branches. According to Vertrees/Gregory in Japanese Maples, 'Mikawa yatsubusa' means a “small cluster of three rivers.”

Acer platanoides 'Princeton Gold'

Oddly both Yano and Vertrees include a few species in their books that are not from Japan, even though both books are purportedly about maples from Japan. In their zeal for the Acer genus they just can't help themselves, and both authors include Acer circinatum, the west-coast North American “Vine maple.” Yano also includes Acer campestre, the “Field maple” from Europe, with the variegated cultivar 'Pulverulentum'. The old cultivar (1859) is one of my least-favorite of variegated maples and I don't produce it anymore. Yano also presents Acer platanoides – the “Norway maple” – 'Prinstone Gold' [sic] which has nothing to do with Japan but at least he has a most delicious photo. Yano obviously means 'Princeton Gold', the patented shade tree from the now defunct Princeton Nurseries of New Jersey.

Acer palmatum 'Red Filigree Lace'

According to Yano, the American selection Acer palmatum (matsumurae) 'Red Filigree Lace' has the Japanese synonym of 'Beni saiho shidare'. An example of the book's poor translation is rendered: “This is a weeping form with leaves, feeling of only veins. The spring leaves are red-brown, later deep red-brown throughout summer. In the autumn, the leaves are deep red. A slow-growing.” My wife says that a bilingual “professor” supplied the translation, but it's a shame that it wasn't shown to an English-speaking audience first.

Acer palmatum 'Satsuki beni'

Yano's Maple Collection
Acer palmatum (amoenum) 'Satsuki beni' is described as a “good leaf form of Acer amoenum f. latilobatum. The spring foliage is young green [sic] with red-brown tipped lobes...” The photo above was taken at Yano's original collection near Nara, Japan. Everything – his hundreds and hundreds of cultivars – was/were growing in ceramic pots which resulted in a dwarfing “bonsai-like” size to the leaves. Though smaller than when grown at Buchholz Nursery in plastic containers, Yano's plants appeared to me to be more vividly colored, and I was sure that he gave long thought to the pots' shape and color to match with each particular maple. Satsuki can mean the “month of May,” and indeed early May was when I visited Yano, and it is also the word used for an “azalea” which usually blooms in May.

Acer palmatum 'Beni sazanami'

Acer palmatum 'Beni sazanami'

Acer palmatum (matsumurae) 'Beni sazanami' is a relatively new (1991) seedling offspring from the old cultivar 'Sazanami' which was known since 1732. I don't grow many of the 'Beni sazanami' because, as Yano says, “The leaves in spring are red-brown, turning green in summer.” So invariably gardeners will describe it as not “holding” its color in summer, therefore it is a difficult sell for me. On a hopeful note though, Yano adds, “The form of the leaf gives a refreshing feel,” or at least that's what the translation reads. Hmm...I'll have to revisit the “refreshing feel.”

Acer palmatum 'Beni komachi'

Acer palmatum 'Otome zakura'

For Acer palmatum 'Beni komachi' – selected in 1975 – Yano lists the synonym of 'Otome zakura' (1975), but does not list the latter in his book. I wonder if 'Beni komachi' originated as a mutation from 'Otome zakura' because the former reverts with growth like the latter. Because of that I don't produce 'Beni komachi' any more, because all of mine would eventually revert. Two weeks ago I saw 'Beni komachi' at Munn Nursery in Oregon – not many, but some, and his looked fine. It was too early in the season for his plants to develop mildew, but mine usually did by June-July. For 'Beni komachi' or “beautiful red-haired dancing girl,” Yano writes, “This cultivar needs a skill of cultivation....At the very least, this tree should be carefully long rain protected,” but I don't have a clue as to what he is trying to say.

Acer palmatum 'Akane'

Acer palmatum 'Akane' is everybody's favorite maple in May, but it can defoliate and/or develop mildew after the onset of hot weather. Yano agrees, saying “It is very beautiful but weak. At the yellow coloration time, avoiding water on the leaves is needed because it is susceptible to diseases, such as powdery mildew.”* The Japanese name akane refers to the “madder plant,” Rubia in the family Rubiaceae, with R. tinctorum being the common madder, R. peregrina the wild madder and R. cordifolia the Indian madder, and according to Vertrees in Japanese Maples, “Because of the color of the dye [from Rubia]...the name has also come to mean 'glowing evening sky,' which describes perfectly the foliage color in spring.

*Interestingly, I used to think that powdery mildew, which some cultivars and species are highly susceptible to, develops because of constant watering of nursery containers. When I discussed the matter with an agriculture rep, he said the opposite was true, that mildew hates water, and that's why it can run rampant in dry summers on our native Acer circinatum and Acer macrophyllum in the wild.

Acer palmatum 'Taimin nishiki'

Acer palmatum 'Hinode nishiki'
Acer palmatum 'Rainbow'

I have grown a couple of Japanese-originating variegated Acer palmatum cultivars such as 'Taimin nishiki' and 'Hinode nishiki', but for me, along with my own variegated 'Rainbow', the colors are not stable and you eventually end up with an entirely purple-red tree. For 'Taimin nishiki', Yano reveals that the cultivar has been “recorded in the old catalog.” (1882). He adds, “For preserving its variegation for long time, it needs cultural techniques.” Unfortunately there is no further mention of these techniques. Maple nurserymen and hobbyists generally agree that one should use fertilizers sparingly, but who has employees that can process those “techniques?” I have sold 'Rainbow' to small one-man nurseries, and guess what? – their 'Rainbow' remain vividly colored.

Acer buergerianum 'Toyo tricolor'

Acer buergerianum 'Toyo tricolor' has an invalid cultivar name with the combination of two languages. Toyo can mean a number of things, but one is “plentiful,” and of course tricolor refers to the colors of the variegation. The photo above was taken at Yano's place, but I have never grown the trident to know if it would revert for me, as does 'Taimin nishiki' and the others.

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa nishiki'

Yano has a beautiful photo of a variegated portion of Acer palmatum 'Mikawa nishiki', but he says, “The variegation is unstable, so it does not regularly appear every year.” I would agree, furthermore in my experience the variegation is more apparent on under-potted trees that are enduring a little stress. Not to be too negative about my employees, but in their mindless condition they have been known to pull A.p. 'Mikawa yatsubusa' for orders instead of 'Mikawa nishiki', in spite of the tremendous difference, so that's another strike against the cultivar.

Acer palmatum 'Aizumi nishiki'

Acer palmatum 'Aizumi nishiki' is a relatively new (2001) cultivar. As Yano says, “A very beautiful cultivar has white variegations, tinged pink in spring, As the variegation tends to disappear in a long spell of rainy weather, cultivating the plant under covering is recommended.” I don't know about that since our containers receive overhead irrigation nearly every day of summer and the variegation never subsides. Nevertheless, if Yano says it disappears I believe him, for everything is possible in his Oriental situation.

Acer shirasawanum 'Sensu' 

Yano lists Acer x shirasawanum 'Kalmthout', a European selection and a probable hybrid with A. palmatum. It is named for Arboretum Kalmthout near Antwerp, Belgium, home to more Hamamelis cultivars than you can keep track of. I don't grow 'Kalmthout', but I would gladly accept scions if someone else does. My interest is because my introduction of A.s. 'Sensu' looks identical in foliage, except that 'Sensu' probably grows more tall than 'Kalmthout'. Yano does not give the year of 'Kalmthout's' introduction.

Acer palmatum 'Bonfire'
Acer palmatum 'Wilson's Pink Dwarf'

If you look for Acer palmatum 'Bonfire' in either the Yano or Vertrees/Gregory book you won't find it. Instead both list A.p. 'Wilson's Pink Dwarf'. I used to keep the two separate even though they looked exactly the same. 'Bonfire' is popular in California while 'Wilson's Pink Dwarf' was selected as a seedling by James Wilson of California, so I suppose Wilson or some other grower decided that 'Bonfire' was a more commercial and descriptive name. Of course it is possible that they're two sister seedlings with similar colors and growth habits. I don't know which name takes precedence but we're selling it as simply 'Bonfire'. My production is limited as I find it difficult to propagate by grafting, and if rooted (which it does) I suspect it wouldn't be as hardy in the outside garden.

Acer palmatum 'Nuresagi'

Acer palmatum 'Nuresagi' (Japanese version)

I look out the office window and see a large specimen of Acer palmatum 'Nuresagi' which I got from Vertrees over 35 years ago. V. writes, “This excellent purple cultivar has large leaves with five to seven lobes which radiate strongly outward, like widely spreading fingers.” Later he says, “The deep, rich black-purple-red is unusual.” Not really – a lot of atro seedlings can have that color. We discontinued production years ago because 'Nuresagi' did not favorably compare with 'Bloodgood' or 'Red Emperor' for holding the deep, rich color. In Yano's book it is listed as 'Nure sagi', “a cultivar from old times (1882).” However, Yano presents a yellow-green colored plant, even though the leaves are shaped the same. According to Vertrees the name means “wet heron,” but neither the red nor the green form evoke a “wet heron” for me.

Acer palmatum 'Murakumo'

So, red or green – who is the real 'Nuresagi'? Similarly, who is the real Acer palmatum 'Murakumo'? Is it 'Murakumo' or 'Marakumo' anyway? Vertrees lists both as separate cultivars with 'Murakumo' being red-leaved with the name meaning “village in the clouds.” No translation is given for 'Marakumo's' name, and if it's indeed a real Japanese word, my Japanese wife doesn't know it. Vertrees's 'Marakumo' looks like my 'Murakumo', and my wife says the latter name translates as “gathering clouds.” You have to admit, since 'Ukigumo' means “floating clouds,” that photos of my 'Murakumo' look more like “gathering clouds” than Yano's version. When Yano visited me about ten years ago I brought up the matter, and with my wife translating Yano apologized for the confusion, as if the green, reticulated tree should be the correct 'Murakumo'. I don't know: maybe he was just being nice because he was on my soil. For what it's worth, in the Vertrees 1st edition (1978) 'Murakumo' (or 'Muragumo') is described as the red-leaved palmatum with 'Marakumo' being the green form, so at least he is consistent, along with co-author Peter Gregory, in the four editions. My start of the green 'Murakumo' came from the late Howard Hughes of Washington state, a keen hobbyist who was instrumental with Vertrees in sorting out cultivar names. Too bad Vertrees and Hughes are no longer with us, but they would both probably despair that correct nomenclature continues as befuddled today as it has ever been.

A.p. 'Ryu sei' or A.p.' Ryusen' would be a current example.

Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost'

Acer palmatum 'Tsuma gaki'

Acer palmatum 'Festival'

Acer rubrum 'Drake'

Acer pseudosieboldianum

Anyway there are a lot of choice cultivars, judging by Yano's excellent photographs, of maple selections that I do not have. But then I remember speaking with a novice potential maple-liner customer who wanted to learn more. After perusing my photo library he concluded that it was difficult to make a decision on what to buy. He said, “It seems your photographs are taken when the tree looks its best, not how it looks the rest of the year.” I replied, “Guilty.”


  1. Yet another outstanding blog that asks and answers questions even iv had and discussed with myself many times, and in a format that doesn't read like a text book. Talon, You really should compile all these blogs and make a book. I enjoy how you almost always have pictures / visuals to show what your describing or discussing.

  2. FAntastic blog and fantastic Acers! I would like to grow Acer palmatum 'Satsuki beni'in my garden i Norway. I think it is not easy to buy here :-) I was Lucky to get Acer palmatum 'Wilson's Pink Dwarf'on a marked in Götheborg Botanical garden 3 weeks ago. It was a salesman from Netherland.