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Japanese maple

Japanese maple tree in fall color.

Varying in size from large shrub to small tree, Japanese maple is a species with many variations. Many cultivars are available with different characteristics such as finely dissected leaves and weeping branches. Not all cultivars are fully hardy in zone 5 and may need protection in winter. 

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.


Botanical name:

Acer palmatum

All common names:

Japanese maple

Family (English):

Soapberry (formerly Maple)

Family (Botanic):

Sapindaceae (formerly Aceraceae)

Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks,
  • Under utility lines

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub,
  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

Landscape Uses:

  • Massing,
  • Mixed border,
  • Patio/sidewalk,
  • Specimen,
  • Utility

Size Range:

  • Small tree (15-25 feet),
  • Compact tree (10-15 feet),
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet),
  • Medium shrub (5-8 feet)

Mature Height:

15-25 feet

Mature Width:

15-35 feet

Light Exposure:

  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8

Soil Preference:

  • Acid soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Alkaline soil

Acid Soils:

  • Tolerant

Alkaline Soils:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Salt Spray:

  • Intolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Intolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Intolerant

Ornamental Interest:

  • Fall color,
  • Attractive bark

Seasons of Interest:

  • late spring,
  • early summer,
  • midsummer,
  • late summer,
  • early fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Purple,
  • Red

Shape or Form:

  • Broad,
  • Multi-stemmed,
  • Round,
  • Weeping

Growth Rate:

  • Slow

Transplants Well:

  • Moderate


  • Insect pollinators

More Information:

Tree & Plant Care

Avoid pruning maples in spring as they are bleeders and will lose a large amount of sap.
Japanese maples do best in a partly shaded site with a consistent supply of water.  Dry soils can lead to leaf scorch.

Disease, pests, and problems

Susceptible to leaf scorch, verticillium wilt, and anthracnose.
Scorch can be a problem in dry, sunny sites.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to China, Japan and Korea.

Bark color and texture 

The bark of the main trunk is usually smooth and gray.  Younger stems are often shiny and may be red, green or purple and can be very ornamental in winter.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Leaves are in pairs (opposite) and simple.  The leaf is deeply divided into 5 to 9 lobes  They can vary a great deal by cultivar.  Some cultivars have green leaves, while others have red or purple foliage.  Leaves may be finely dissected, even to the point of appearing to be compound.  Fall color will also vary by cultivar.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Small flowers open in late spring and may be red or purplish.  Ornamental when viewed close up.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fruit are winged seeds in pairs (samaras);  1/2 to 3/4  inch long. 
Green, often maturing to red in fall.  Mildly ornamental.

Cultivars and their differences

There are literally hundreds of cultivars of Japanese maples.  They vary quite a bit in hardiness, size, leaf color and leaf type.  The cultivars mentioned here are known to be successful in zone 5.

Bloodgood Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood'):  Rounded form growing 18 feet high and wide.  Summer foliage is purple-red, changing to red in autumn.  Leaves are the non-dissected type.

Crimson Queen Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Crimson Queen'):  This is a weeping or mounded form, growing 6 feet high and 8 feet wide.   Summer foliage is purple-red, changing to scarlet in autumn.  Leaves are dissected (cutleaf) type.

Emperor I Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Wolff'): An upright, rounded mid-sized Japanese maple, growing to 18 feet high and 16 feet wide.  Foliage is purple-red in summer, changing to scarlet red in autumn.  Late to leaf out, so more tolerant of late frost.

Lion's Head Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira'):  Vase shaped, with deep green summer foliage, this compact cultivar reaches 15 fee high by 10 feet wide.  Autumn color is golden to orange-red.  Crinkled leaves make the foliage particularly interesting.

Orangeola Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Orangeola'):  Highly dissected leaves are orange in spring, green during the summer and bright orange in autumn.  A weeping form, this Japanese maple grows to 8 feet high and wide.

Tamukeyama Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Tamukeyama'):   Another weeping or mounded form, growing 10 feet high by 12 feet wide.  New foliage emerges crimson red then deepens to purple-red.  Leaves are dissected (cutleaf) type.

Viridis Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Viridis'):  A weeping form, growing 8 to 10 feet high and 8 feet wide.  Foliage is cutleaf (dissected) and green.  Fall color is gold to orange-red.




Location of Acer palmatum (Japanese maple) at the Arboretum