Metro-East Living

Gardening: There are more than 500 types of Japanese maples

The Bloodgood Japanese maple is a popular selection and was a Mississippi Medallion award winner.
The Bloodgood Japanese maple is a popular selection and was a Mississippi Medallion award winner. Chicago Tribune Service

Q: Last week during a Christmas family gathering, a discussion came up about Japanese maples. Many in the family have tried to grow at least one type of Japanese maple and the discussion was really interesting as to how many different Japanese maples there are, how many are hardy in our area, are there any nurseries that specialize in raising just Japanese Maples?

F. J. of Collinsville

A: Starters for your family should include the book “Japanese Maples” first written by J.D. Vertrees and revised in the third edition by Peter Gregory. It was published by Timber Press in 2001 and reprinted in four different years. More than 400 cultivars are described with 100 new cultivated varieties added in the last printing.

Originally “Japanese maple” meant any tree that was native to Japan, but later it was reduced to trees belonging to the species Acer palmatum and Acer japonicum. There is one exception of Acer circinatum, which is actually native to our Pacific Northwest.

These trees are grown primarily for their foliage color and unusually shaped leaves, and some even give a second different coloring of leaves in the fall. There are also variegated leaves that in Japanese maples are termed chimeras, which means there are two distinct types of tissue growing next to each other. Usually the white and pink parts of the leaves do not contain any chlorophyll. But Japanese maples tend to lose their variegated leaves as they age. Research has just found that to be the result of excessive nitrogen fertilizer being applied with the absence of sufficient phosphate and potash. On occasion, Japanese maples will produce branches that lack all the markings of the cultivar and should be pruned out because they will outgrow other branches.

Japanese maples are mainly produced by grafting (vegetative) when the top part of the plant (scion) is placed on a rootstock containig the roots. This is the reason that most Japanese maples are so expensive.

Culture of Japanese maples will cause you to learn a special Japanese language not included in Japanese-to-English dictionaries, especially color descriptions referred to as FU.

FU indicates how the difference of color is shown in the leaf such as variegations only to outside edge of the leaf, irregular over the leaf surface, green blotching on white leaves, brushed in colors, star appearance, and thread-like stripes, colors only near the center vein of the leaf, frost and tiny dots.

Most of the Japanese maple cultivars were lost in the 1940s as the land was needed for food production and the maples were used for fuel and firewood. Interest came back in the 1960s.

Most nurseries handle Japanese maples. There is only one nursery in our area that produces just Japanese maples — Davidsan’s Nursery, 919 S. Farmingdale Road in New Berlin, near Springfield. The website is

The nursery is open only April through October.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to

Do it now

  • START A JOURNAL: Obtain a calendar to keep track of weather conditions, seed varieties obtained for planting, dates germinated, planted outside, records and amounts of harvests, successes and failures, anything unusual that happened.