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Spotlight On: Paperbark Maple, A Deciduous Tree For All Seasons

By May 5, 2022June 20th, 2023Plant Spotlight
Spotlight On: Paperbark Maple, A Deciduous Tree For All Seasons

When you think about trees that will grace your garden with beauty all year long, you probably think of evergreens, or at least something that produces berries to brighten up a snowy landscape.

You probably don’t think of deciduous trees. Even if you enjoy the artistry of bare branches against a slate winter sky, you wouldn’t call most of these trees year-round crowd-pleasers.

But there is one tree that you can count on to look equally amazing whether it’s wearing its foliage or not, and that’s the Paperbark Maple. This tree goes from colorful nobility during warm months to true royalty once it sheds its leaves in late fall.

In this Spotlight series, we highlight plants, shrubs and trees that have something special to bring to your landscape. Whether it’s a unique seasonal appeal, or a beauty all its own, we consider these to be a few of the “must-haves” of New Jersey landscapes.

Today we’re highlighting the Paperbark Maple. It’s not an evergreen but it has an incredible four-season appeal that you won’t want to miss.

paperbark maple trunkEndanger In Nature, Beloved In Gardens

The majority of the world’s species of Paperbark Maple are native to Eastern Asia, and it only made its way to the United States about 150 years ago. Sadly, this beauty is endangered in its natural habitat.

Part of the challenge is that this tree cannot be rooted from cuttings. And it produces very few fertile seeds, keeping its numbers small. In fact, only about 5% of its otherwise prolific seeds ever produce another tree!

The good news for this charming and unique tree, is that in addition to dedicated conservation efforts, it continues to live on as an ornamental addition to landscapes everywhere.

In the wild it can grow as tall as 50 feet, but in gardens it is perfectly suited to small and moderate-sized spaces, where it typically grows to only about half that. Its ornamental size and compact shape makes it a great addition near patios and walkways, as a focal point for all-season interest, and near windows where its beauty can be appreciated indoors and out, all year long.

paperbark mapleCare & Maintenance

The Paperbark Maple, aptly named for its peeling, paper-like bark, is one of the lowest maintenance trees you’ll find. It prefers moist, well-drained soil and will grow in full sun to partial shade. It can thrive in variety of soil types, from sandy to clay, and tolerates a wide range of pH.

During its first few growing seasons, keep the roots moist. During especially hot, dry summers you can give it a deep soak about once a week if you choose, but once it’s established, it is fairly drought-tolerant. Cover its base area with mulch for a lovely aesthetic and an effective water retention system.

The Paperbark is notably untroubled by disease or pests, and its tolerance of many soil types makes it a great addition to areas where other trees struggle.

It requires little if any pruning. Its trunk tends to grow into multiple stems so you can prune it to train it to grow on one stem, but part of the beauty of this tree is its natural inclination toward variety.

With minimal attention, this gorgeous tree can live as many as 80 to 100 years.

paperbark maple seedWhy We Love It

There isn’t a season when this tree doesn’t stand out. From first spring to dead of winter, there is something gorgeous and special to enjoy.

In early spring, purplish buds unfurl gracefully into three-lobed leaves, which become a darker green as spring and summer progress, with silky silver undersides.

During spring, the Paperback Maple flowers in tiny, inconspicuous clusters of yellow-green blooms that the truly observant will appreciate. Flowers give way to the classic maple tree winged “whirlybird” fruit that you may be familiar with as it helicopters its way to the ground each fall.

Late in autumn, the Paperbark Maple bursts into color, shimmering in rich hues of yellow, burnt orange, deep red, scarlet, crimson and even pink. It’s one of the most stunning shows of foliage you can hope to see in your garden. Better yet, its leaves hang on longer into winter than most trees.

But to understand the true artistry of this tree, you must appreciate it during winter after it has shed its last leaf. That’s when its bark is on full display, the rich reddish-brown outer layer peeling to reveal a lustrous cinnamon brown bark beneath.

As the outer layers of bark peel away, it curls into graceful whorls, adding depths of color and texture that you can appreciate all year, but is especially striking in a winter garden.

As if this tree didn’t have enough to captivate you all year long, it also serves as a home, shelter and food source for songbirds, squirrels and other wildlife.

There are so many ways to maximize the beauty of this tree in your yard. Plant it in your winter garden near a window where you can appreciate it from the warmth of the indoors. Add it to a pollinator garden. Create a focal point in a children’s garden. Or plant it where you can watch the setting sun blaze through its autumn leaves.

If you’re interested in creating a four-season outdoor space with beauties like this one, contact us for a consultation. Our landscape design pros will listen to your ideas and dreams, and turn them into something you can enjoy day and night, all year long.

Feature photo credit: Grandmont
“Care & Maintenance” photo credit: Salicyna
“Beauty Through Any Season” photo credit: Sten
“Why We Love It” photo credit: Ram-Man