Acer palmatum (common name: Japanese maple or smooth Japanese maple) is a species of woody plant native to Japan, North Korea, South Korea, eastern Mongolia, and southeast Russia. Acer palmatum is a deciduous shrub or small tree that is 20 to 33 ft tall. It is often present as an understory plant in shady woodlands. In nature, Acer palmatum undergoes considerable genetic variation. Seedlings from the same parent tree often grow to display differences in key traits such as the leaf size, shape, and colour.
Development of Japanese maple cultivars started in Japan in the 1700s, when gardeners selected and bred or used grafting to propagate attractive variants in leaf features, and overall size and form of the tree. Currently, there may be more than 1000 varieties and cultivars present, including hybrids or grafts with species closely related to Acer plamatum, such as A. duplicatoserratum and A. japonicum (downy Japanese maple). Out of these, at least 350 cultivars are used in Europe and North America. The term “Japanese maple” does not represent one species and may be used to refer to any of the 23 species of Acer that are native to Japan.