I have been wanting to add this most beautiful of trees to the plant of the week for many months now, just other plants have got in the way but on Saturday I was staring at quite a few of them at The Sir Hillier Gardens and decided this is the week to feature this tree.
Acer griseum is a small tree, native of the central area of China in the Sichuan, Shaanxi, Henan, Hubel,Gansu, Hanan and Shanxi provinces, where it grows in woodland between 1500-2000m above sea level. It was introduced into to western civilisation by one of the greatest plant hunters of them all, a chap called Ernest Wilson, for the famous Veitch Nursery in 1901. Ernest Wilson or Chinese Wilson introduced 1,200 new plants into our gardens during his time as a plant hunter in China. This included 400 new species and 4 new genera. The name comes from Ancient Greek, Acer means bitter and griseum means greyish.
Acer griseum or the paper barked maple can grow up to 50ft tall over a period of many years, it is quite a slow growing tree and most specimens reach no more than 30ft often nearer 20ft in height. Making it an ideal tree for the smaller gardens. The leaves themselves as quite attractive with a greyish underneath and a light green on top and are formed of 3 leaflets on each leave. The leaves do turn a beautiful red and orange colour in the autumn months. The flowers are borne in mid spring around April time and are small and yellow in colour. As the common name may suggest, it’s for its bark this tree is really grown for. The bark ranges in the different shades of brown and peels off the tree in sheets of brown paper that is very stunning! This effect normally starts happening when the tree is at least 4 years old and so does require a good size specimen for the garden if you would like to see the best from it. With the sunlight behind it, it is breathtakingly beautiful and has fast become one of the main stays in a winter garden.
It is also Acer griseum’s ability to grow in all types of soils including clay, chalk and sand that has also helped it become so popular. The only thing it needs is for the soil to be moist and fairly free draining. It is also pretty disease and pest free. It’s size and slow growth, means it’s ideal for most size gardens, from the small to the massive, where it can look magnificent grown in small groves. It requires very little pruning, maybe removal of lower branches when young to give a clear stem if required and removal of crossing branches and dead wood, that is about it. The one fault Acer griseum has is that the seeds tend to be pathenocarpy, which means they will form but will contain no seed. This reduces the germination rate down to around 5% for them but seed is still one of the best ways to grow it. Grafting is another way it is propagated.
Garden wise, Acer griseum can be found in most large gardens, there’s a lovely one At Mottisfont Abbey gardens, great examples at RHS Wisley and Rosemoor and of course Sir Harold Hilliers Garden. It is also pretty easy to buy, with most good Nurseries and garden centres able to supply it
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