Japanese Maple

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
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.
Maheen Zakaria and Benjamin Klempay
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
7.65 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.58 m

Acer palmatum may have multiple trunks joining close to the ground. The bark is grey and slightly rough, with a somewhat fluted trunk. No thorns are present.
Twigs & branches
It has reddish-brown, slender and glabrous twigs with broadly conical, red buds. The tree is small, standing 25 feet tall with a round crown. It is typically multistemmed or branches low. Some cultivars have drooping branches.
Leaves are opposite, simple, orbicular in outline. They are 2 to 5 inches long, have a serrated margin and are palmately lobed with five, seven, or nine acutely pointed lobes. In case of some cultivars the leaves are so deeply lobed that they appear compound. The leaves display palmate venation. The color of the leaves is dependent on the cultivar. They are commonly deep red.
Reproductive Structures
The species is monoecious, having both male and female flowers on the same plant. The flowers are inconspicuous and small, and hence do not attract insects. They are produced in small cymes; each the individual flowers has five red or purple sepals and five whitish petals.
The fruit is a pair of winged samaras. Each samara 2–3 cm long with a 6–8 mm seed. The seeds of Japanese maple and similar species require stratification to germinate.
  • Winter (2/4/2015)
  • Early Spring
  • Summer
  • Fall
Acer palmatum grows at temperate latitudes in the Northern hemisphere (~35°--50°N). Though the Japanese maple is native to East Asia, it also grows in northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, and it is cultivated in a wider range of climates.
Origin, history, and uses: 

A. palmatum has been cultivated in Japan for centuries, with the selection and propagation of specific cultivars dating back almost 400 years, to the early 1600’s. Natural variation in Japanese maples, coupled with observed mutations and cross pollination in cultivated specimens resulted in the emergence of 200 cultivars in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1867). However, many of those cultivars were destroyed during the two world wars, especially in the 1940’s. During the wartime era, the Japanese maple stands were cut down for firewood, and the land utilized for food production. Only since the 1960s has interest been revived in these trees.

When Swedish doctor-botanist Carl Peter Thunberg traveled in Japan late in the eighteenth century, he returned with drawings of a small tree. He named the species palmatum after the hand-like shape of the foliage, similar to the centuries old Japanese references kaede and momiji, to these trees.

The cultivars from maples found in Japan and nearby Korea and China are of great interest to bonsai enthusiasts and have long been a subject in art. Currently, numerous varieties are available commercially at garden centers and other retail stores in Europe and North America, and are very popular for ornamentation. It also has medicinal benefits. Preparations from the branches and leaves are used as a treatment in traditional Chinese medicine.

Media and Arts

For our final project we learned how to use an online software for designing Computer-Aided Design (CAD) models called Tinkercad, and we designed and printed a 3D model of a Japanese maple leaf.  Thanks to Marissa Li for help with designing the venation.  To print or edit, save zakaria_klempay_japanese_maple_leaf.txt (above) and convert to .stl file format.