Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum)
In my continuing quest to both locate and profile plants that provide visual interest during our long winters, I took a recent stroll through Manito Park. I came across several small trees with striking bark in the Joel E. Ferris Perennial Garden and learned that they are Paperbark Maples. After doing some research, I believe one would make a marvelous addition to any garden.
Native to central China, this slow-growing, deciduous tree grows to a height of about 20 feet, making it a good choice for a small yard. It has an upright growth habit and averages about 15 feet in width. It prefers sun but will tolerate partial shade.
This tree makes a stunning specimen because of its copper- to cinnamon-colored bark that peels off in small sheets. Much of the bark has a polished appearance that contrasts beautifully with a snowy background.
The Paperbark Maple thrives in moist, well-drained soil and is not drought-tolerant. It has green trifoliate leaves that are 3 to 5 inches long and have silvery undersides. One of my references states that the scientific name Acer griseum, which means gray maple, likely was based on the color of new leaves as they emerge in the spring. It is one of the last trees to change color in the fall but when it does, gardeners will be treated to bright red leaves.
In the spring, the trees have small flowers that aren’t particularly remarkable but they will develop into showy samaras, or winged seeds, that are about 2 inches long.
Two popular cultivars of Paperbark Maple are ‘Cinnamon Flake’ and ‘Ginzam’ (Gingerbread). If this column piques your curiosity, pay a visit to Manito Park and view the trees on the western edge of the Ferris Perennial Garden.