Acer palmatum: Japanese Maple
Updated: May 1, 2020
English Common Name: Red Emperor Maple, Japanese Maple
Japanese Name (Katakana): イロハモミジ
Japanese Name (Kanji): いろは紅葉
Height: 10 - 15 meters
Native to Japan, Korea, and China, Acer palmatum is a well known species of maple that is symbolic of Japanese autumn with its bright red autumn foliage. Within its Japanese name, イロハ (iroha), derives from a traditional counting method in Japan, where the number of leaf tips were counted as such: “I, ro, ha, ni, ho, he, to.” モミジ (momiji) is derived from the old Japanese verb “momizu” (that is not used anymore), which means “(a leaf) changes color in autumn.” Today, it is not uncommon for イロハモミジ to be referred to simply as “モミジ” (momiji). In Latin, its genus name Acer refers to maple trees. The Latin species epithet palmatum refers to the palmate or “hand-shaped” form of the leaves.
Today, there are hundreds of different Acer palmatum cultivars (which are often listed after the species name in single quotations, as in Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’) that produce trees with different leaf colors, tree shapes, and leaf shapes. Acer palmatum has been grown and cultivated for hundreds of years in Japan for ornamental gardens, landscape design, and bonsai. Its wood has been used for furniture and instruments.
Leaves: Leaves typically grow 5 - 13 cm long and have 5 - 9 serrated lobes. Leaf color is usually light green - dark green (though some varieties are red), with fall colors that range from bright red to bronze and purple. The leaves are palmate-shaped and appear opposite one another on a branch.
Flowers and Fruit: Small reddish - purple flowers appear from April - May and are not obvious from a distance. Like many other maples, its fruit arrives from July - September in the form of samaras, papery winged seed pods that look like a pair of tadpoles.
“Acer Palmatum.” Missouri Botanical Garden, www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=b974.
“Acer Palmatum.” North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox, NC State University and N.C. A&T State University, plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/acer-palmatum/.
Dirr, Michael A. Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs. Timber Press, 2017.
Presendorfer-McGinnis, James. “Acer Palmatum.” Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore College, 29 July 2015, www.scottarboretum.org/acer-palmatum/.
Japanese Field Guides Consulted:
Title: 葉っぱで見分け五感で楽しむ樹木図鑑 (Happa de miwake gokan de tanoshimu jumokuzukan)
Author: 林将之 (Hayashi Masayuki)
Publishing Date and Publisher: 2014, ナツメ社
Title: 樹皮・葉でわかる樹木図鑑 (Juhi・Hadewakaru jumokuzukan)
Author: 菱山忠三郎 (Hishiyama Chuzaburo)
Publishing Date and Publisher: 2011, 成美堂出版
Photography: Siri McGuire