Description & Overview

Acer palmatum is a species with a plethora of variations. It can grow as a large shrub or a small tree. Acer palmatum ‘Wolff’ or the Emperor 1 Japanese Maple is a cultivar perfect for those looking for a small-statured specimen. Its form becomes rounded with age but tends to be upright in youth. Its red foliage is an iconic characteristic and turns into a beautiful crimson come fall.

Core Characteristics

Category: Tree

Wisconsin Native: No - Introduced

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 5

Mature Height: 12-20 feet

Mature Spread: 12-20 feet

Growth Rate: Slow

Growth Form: Broad. Open. Upright in youth.

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Foliage has best color when planted In full sun. Moist, well-draining soil.

Flower: Insignificant

Bloom Period: Spring Flowers emerge with foliage

Foliage: Dark red.

Fall Color: Crimson-red

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Samara

Suggested Uses

The ‘Emperor 1′ Japanese Maple is well-suited as a landscape specimen and ought to be planted in a prominent location where it will attract attention. Thanks to its eventual mature stature, it could provide a small amount of shade if sited near a patio or outdoor seating area. ‘Emperor 1′ could also be used to anchor an entryway or even planted in groups on the outskirts of landscape, rock garden or evergreen screen. The attractive dark red foliage is sure to stand out regardless of where you site this remarkable plant. It should be noted that Japanese Maples are considered marginally hardy in southeastern Wisconsin and need to be planted in a semi-protected location in order to live their best lives. Japanese Maples are typically best sited in the south to southeast side of a home, building or evergreen screen where they receive permentant protection from the cold winter winds.

Wildlife Value

‘Emperor 1′ produces minuscule purplish-red umbles in spring, pushing at the same time as foliage. These blossoms are minute and ornamentally insignificant, yet they still attract pollinators. Because Japanese maples are not native to the country, they do not provide a significant ecological benefit.

The Imperial moth (Eacles imperialis) prefers native maples; however, the caterpillar of this moth has been observed to occasionally feed on the foliage of non-native maples such as this one.

It should be noted that the feeding of this moth should never warrant control.

Maintenance Tips

Properly caring for your ‘Emperor 1′ Japanese Maple begins with siting it in a proper location. The ideal light conditions for Japanese Maples would be dappled light or part shade. ‘Emperor 1′ can thrive in full sun and it’s foliage color is best when planted in full sun, although it will still need some shade throughout the day. The delicate foliage can still burnm especially in hot and dry locations. You must apply a generous layer of bark mulch over the tree’s root zone and water it throughoutly throughout the growing season and into fall before the ground freezes. Your tree will benefit from having more water stored up in its root system going into the winter season, this helps your plant come out of dormancy feeling refreshed and ready to grow.

Japanese Maples are considered marginally hardy in southeastern Wisconsin and should be planted in a semi-protected location. The prevailing wind direction in Wisconsin is from the West. The best spots to plant a Japanese Maple are those on the eastern sides of things like buildings or evergreen screens. This protects the tree from sweeping western winds and intense sunlight. In general, Japanese Maples are best sited on the south to southeast side of your home. The foliage of ‘Emperor 1′ tends to push early in spring and is subject to damage from late spring frosts.

We recommend reading Growing Japanese Maples in Wisconsin for more in-depth information about properly caring for your Japanese maple.


The biggest problems you’ll encounter when growing Japanese Maple come with improper placement and brutal Wisconsin winters. You may encounter leaf-feeding insects such as aphids or leafminers that cause minor damage, but they are not common pests on Japanese Maples. There are minimal insect and disease issues that affect this plant’s mortality. The main focus should be keeping your plant happy and healthy, which all starts with where you decide to plant it.

Leaf Lore

The International Maple Society founded in the UK in 1990, has broken up the broad category of Japanese maples into 17 groups. Acer palmatum ‘Wolff’ is part of the iconic palmate group of Japanese Maples. This group can be somewhat confusing considering the most common species of Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum, which has hundreds of cultivars that can be found in nearly every group of Japanese Maple. The specific epithet palmatum is Latin for “hand” or more specifically, describes a leaf that is shaped like a hand. Each leaf has several lobes, usually between 5 and 7, which all originate from a single point, resembling an open hand with its fingers stretched out.

Acer palmatum ‘Wolff’ was introduced by Dick Wolff at Red Maple Nursery in Pennsylvania in 1976

Companion Plants

While phenomenal looking on its own, the ‘Emperor 1′ Japanese Maple can look even more charming when planted with a few companion plants. Ground-covering plants such as Canada Wild Ginger, Bunchberry, or a Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper could complement their small stature.

Remember that your Japanese maple will want some protection from the sun. We recommend using large shade trees nearby to help provide ideal light conditions; these include Oaks, Hackberry, Kentucky Coffeetree, Honeylocust, American Beech, and Katsura.

Acer palmatum is a species with a plethora of variations. It can grow as a large shrub or a small tree. Acer palmatum ‘Wolff' or the Emperor 1 Japanes…
miles minter avatar

Written by Miles Minter