Acer griseum – Paperbark maple

Acers must rate as one of the most ornamental plants grown in the Lothians. This plant rates as my favourite tree for a small garden and must be,pound for pound, one of the most beautiful trees. However I know of one local nurseryman who does not rate this plant at all. The secret with this plant is patience as the tree in my parents’ front garden,that I planted over twenty years ago,would testify if it could speak. Hardly a week goes by without a complimentary comment being made by passersby. The famous plantsman Roy Lancaster confirms this as he states that ‘few ornamental trees arouse so much interest’.

Attributes – Where do we start? It has attractive small leaves divided in three being one of the maples that are classed as trifoliate. These appear in the spring, copper in colour,fading into a bluish green tinted with red then explode into a magnificent orange to crimson in autumn. This attractive foliage would be reason enough to grow this tree, however it is the ornamental bark that makes it stand out. Its bark is cinnamon in colour which peels back (exfoliates) and, as it matures, it turns to more of an intense rich red-brown. Written descriptions don’t do this plant justice and I highly recommend a visit to Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden where an exceptional mature specimen exists opposite the Palm House. You will also pass a good specimen between there and the East gate, a site that is guaranteed to cheer you up on any winter’s day.

Cultivation- This plant performs well in a variety of different soils but it is best to avoid poorly drained,exposed sites as establishing the plant in those conditions may be very slow. It may in time achieve 10m in height but this will only be after many years. Many of the original plants introduced by Ernest Wilson from China are only just achieving this now. The specimen I planted 20 years ago is now approximately 4m in height.

Acer griseum is not the easiest plant to propagate, its viability from seed being very low – rarely more than 5%. Certainly don’t expect to find large specimens of this tree in garden centres or nurseries, I did say you would need some patience. Acer griseum is a magnificent specimen tree for all seasons that will add class to any garden. I guarantee if you have the patience it will be worth it and be enjoyed for many years to come.

However for those that are not gifted with patience or have more challenging locations, such as the exposed higher sites of West Lothian, then the Tibetian Cherry (Prunus serrula) is another option. Its alternative common name of poor mans Acer griseum is very unfair because it is a cracker of a plant in its own right. It does share a wonderfully ornamental bark of similar colour to Acer griseum but is quicker to establish and more robust in heavier soil and more exposed locations.

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