September 2015 Plant Profile: Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’

September 8th, 2015 by UWBG Communication Staff

By Ray Larson, Curator

maple photoIn honor of the annual Elisabeth Miller Memorial Lecture on September 10 in Meany Hall, this month’s plant profile features one of her favorite trees, and perhaps the plant most associated with her:  Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium.’

At the UW Botanic Gardens, we have a grove of 6 planted in the Dorothy McVay Courtyard.  These trees were included at Mrs. Miller’s suggestion when Iain Robertson developed the garden design for the courtyard in the mid-1980s.  Betty Miller’s famous garden just north of Seattle includes over two dozen of the trees, which are among the very best small trees for texture and outstanding fall color.

They begin coloring in late July and slowly build to a crescendo of fiery reds ranging from flame orange to deep maroon.  They are among the most reliable trees for fall color in the Pacific Northwest, and generally at their peak in mid-October.
maple photo

As an added benefit they have small but showy flowers, which appear in early spring right before the leaves unfurl.  The shape of the leaves gives the tree its common name, and the scientific name refers to their resemblance to monkshood foliage (Aconitum).   They grow well in part shade to sun, with longest and best fall color appearing in more sun.  One of the best small trees for urban gardens, either singly or in a grove.  This is the most commonly grown Acer japonicum, but the UW Botanic Gardens has several other varieties, including impressive specimens of A. japonicum ‘O-isami’ and A. japonicum ‘Takinogawa’ in the Woodland Garden.  Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ received an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1984.  It is reputedly hardier than other forms of Acer japonicum, and is rated down to USDA Zone 5.

maple leaf photoCommon name:  Fernleaf fullmoon maple
Family:   Sapindaceae
Location:  McVay Courtyard at the Center for Urban Horticulture
Origin:  The species is native to mountain forests of Japan, Manchuria and Korea.  According to Arthur Lee Jacobson’s North American Landscape Trees, this form was introduced to cultivation around 1888 by Parsons Nursery in Flushing, NY.
Height and spread:  Generally 12-18’ high and as wide
Bloom time:  Late March-early April
Bloom color:  dark red, and showy for a maple

McVay maples photo

CUH Update – October 2010: UW Classes, plant evaluations and fall color

October 11th, 2010 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium'

Classes in UW are in full swing as is the fall landscape at UWBG. Color is just beginning to show on our deciduous trees and the fall-blooming perennials are slowly waiting in the wings to burst into flight and glorious bloom here at CUH. After a inconsistent and late summer, fall seems to be right on queue as the weather slowly cools and our usual autumn tasks are well underway: fertilizing the lawn, planting and transplanting, monotonous raking and gathering of fallen leaves in either cold wet or windy weather, and one of my more favorite task is evaluating the year’s successes and failures in order to plan for next season.

Our formal evaluations were actually done on a crop of hardy perennials supplied to us by Blooms of Bressingham. For years we’ve received material and grown them on for people to see, but it was just last year that we resumed our formal trials and gave “BLOOMS” our feedback on how well their plants performed. This season, I decided to step it up; I recruited a enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteer to help me with maintenance and evaluations based on a set of criteria. We noted things like flowering period, stem and foliage quality, and pest and disease resistance. Maintenance practices were also jotted down to determine a variety’s overall performance throughout the growing season. I hope to develop an exclusive page that will feature photos of each variety under evaluation and our findings. There are some exceptional varieties and a few that never should have entered the market based on our criteria. So, stay tuned for those results!

Helichrysum Pink Sapphires - a brand new variety drawing much attention as it completes its 2nd year of evaluations.

One of the more exciting things to observe as an employee is being able to access “behind the scenes” to see the number of student projects taking place. Graduate students and post docs run various experiments and several classes make use of our facilities to set up labs and it’s all very fascinating to see. At times I feel like I’m so out of touch with recent developments and research, but it’s reassuring to know that there are hard working individuals answering various questions concerning our ever-changing ecosystems and landscapes.

Both the students and the general public have a most treasured resource here at CUH that’s celebrating its 25th anniversary. The Elisabeth C. Miller Horticultural Library is one of the best in the nation providing both novice and professionals a tremendous number of resources related to gardening and plants. Be sure to check our calendar for upcoming events to celebrate.

Our Douglas Conservatory has never really lived up to its name as our collection of indoor plants have consisted of only random hand-me downs from various sources who didn’t want to bother with them and tropicals left over from seasonal containers, but with a few doing reasonably well. I asked one of our volunteers to work with what we have and create a more appealing composition. Here’s what we came up with:

With fall being an ideal time to plant and transplant, expect a few changes as we play another round of musical plants. Look out for new plantings, a lot of digging and thinning and, hopefully, a few pleasant surprises come spring. There’s plenty to do as we shift in the seasons and I invite you all to come and visit and see the transformation before your eyes!