Acer buergerianum: Trident Maple
Updated: May 4
Japanese Name (Katakana): トウカエデ
Japanese Name (Kanji): 唐楓
Height: 10-20 meters
With distinct, peeling bark and three-lobed leaves that resemble a duck’s foot, Acer buergerianum is a species of maple tree with cultural and historical ties to the Tokugawa shoguns of Edo period Japan (1603 - 1868). At the time, feudal lords under the control of the shogun (called daimyo, 大名) were required to alternate between living at their feudal estate (or han, 藩) and in Edo (later called Tokyo) as part of the Tokugawa shogunate’s policy of sankin-kotai (参勤交代). As such, the fashions and trends of Edo diffused across Japan when the daimyo returned to their estates. These trends often involved the botanical interests of the Tokugawa shoguns, among whom a fascination with natural history and the cultivation of particular plant species was not uncommon. Tokugawa Ienobu (shogun from 1709 - 1712) was especially taken with multicolored maples. Acer buergerianum trees are thought to have been imported to Japan and surged in popularity nationwide during either the Genroku era (1688 - 1703) or Kyōhō era (1716 - 1735).
The Japanese name トウカエデ (Toukaede) consists of two parts. First, “トウ” (Tou) refers to the Tang dynasty of China (618 to 907 CE), a nod to the original geographic range of the species. Although this prefix refers to a particular time period in Chinese history, it is often used in the names of species with Chinese origins, and does not necessarily denote that it was imported during this time. Second, カエデ (kaede), meaning “maple” in Japanese, is derived from the pronunciation of ‘Kaeru-te,’ which literally means “frog hand” in reference in to the shape of the leaf.
Though no longer cultivated under the eye of the shogun, Acer buergerianum remains a popular street, park, garden, and bonsai tree. Many ornamental strains of this species exist with varying leaf shape and autumn coloration.
Leaves: Leaves grow between 4-9 cm long. They are dark green when mature and can be red when just emerging. May have serrated or smooth edges. They feature 3 major veins, with smaller veins branching from each major vein. The stem is about as long as the leaf blade. They grow opposite each other along the branch and are simple (one leaf per stem).
Bark: The bark of Acer buergerianum can be orange, brown, and gray. When the tree is mature, the bark falls off in long strips or scales.
Flowers and Fruits: Small, greenish-yellow flowers appear in April - May but are not too noticeable. Like many other maples, the trident maple produces samaras, known for their characteristic, papery "wings" that disperse the seed it holds. Samaras in this species grow to be about 2 cm long by the fall.
Marcon, Federico. Knowledge of Nature and the Nature of Knowledge in Early Modern Japan. The University Of Chicago Pres, 2017.
Oregon State University, Department of Horticulture
Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association. “The History of Traditional Garden Plants.” Garden City Tokyo Travel & History, Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association , 2016, www.tokyo-park.or.jp/special/botanicallegacy/en/about/history/index.html.
University of Connecticut Plant Database
“カエデ・楓（かえで）.” 語源由来辞典, Lookvice Inc., http://gogen-allguide.com/ka/kaede.html.
Japanese Field Guides Consulted
林将之 (Hayashi Masayuki)
菱山忠三郎 (Hishiyama Chuzaburo)
Photography: Siri McGuire