Description & Overview

Acer griseum, the Paperbark maple is a handsome ornamental tree with a small-to-medium stature and year-round interest. This is one of the most beautiful maples, featuring trifoliate leaves and excellent fall color. Perhaps its most striking feature is its exfoliating bark. It peels back in papery curls that are cinnamon-brown to reddish-brown in color. This specimen is a true showstopper.

Core Characteristics

Category: Tree

Wisconsin Native: No - Introduced

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 4

Mature Height: 20-30 feet

Mature Spread: 20-30 feet

Growth Rate: Slow

Growth Form: Upright, oval to round canopy.

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Adaptable to different soil types and pH. Drought intolerant.

Flower: Inconspicuous. Greenish yellow

Bloom Period: Spring. Flowers appear as leaves expand.

Foliage: Green. Trifoliate.

Fall Color: Orange, red/burgundy, and bronze.

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Schizocarp of two green-brown samaras. Often sterile.

Suggested Uses

Beautiful, breathtaking, distinctive, eye-catching, awe-inspiring – how many adjectives can we describe the Paperbark maple? The list goes on and on. This tree has many impressive features, but the one you’ll notice first is the bark. The bark exfoliates in paper-thin layers of coppery orange-brown, which looks particularly striking in the snow. These papery curls remain on the tree instead of falling to the ground. Small branches will display exfoliating bark making this a proper specimen tree, even at a young age. Most specimens are seen with multiple trunks and really show off that unique bark. Multi-stemmed individuals tend to branch close to the ground, but you can create a single trunk when young with proper training.

Paperbark Maple is one of the last maples to develop fall color, and its trifoliate leaves are somewhat persistent into winter. Foliage is fine-textured and unusual, with leaves darker green and smaller than most maples. Fall color is generally very vibrant, from orange-red to burgundy and bronze.

Given its smaller size, it is well suited as a front yard specimen, accent tree around a patio or poolside hardscape, near foundation beds, or providing ideal shade for outdoor living spaces. Paperbark maple is also known as an excellent and popular subject for bonsai.

Acer griseum, the Paperbark maple is a handsome ornamental tree with a small-to-medium stature and year-round interest. This is one of the most beauti…

Wildlife Value

Paperbark Maple produces tiny yellowish-green flowers. These blossoms may be minuscule and ornamentally insignificant, yet they still attract pollinators. Because the Paperbark maple is not native to the country, they do not provide a significant ecological benefit. While the foliage offers little food, the canopy is a lovely perch or nesting site for birds.

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

The good news for those plagued by clay-filled soils is that Paperbark Maple can perform well in these conditions, although they thrive in moist, well-draining areas. This maple is adaptable to different sites and isn’t picky about soil pH. However, it does not tolerate drought.

Planting this maple in full sun is ideal exposure, although they can tolerate some shade. It has been observed that in shadier areas, the most noticeable issue is a duller fall color.

Protect the trunk in areas where maintenance activities, such as mowing, may cause damage.

Pruning is best done when the tree enters dormancy in late fall or early winter. Avoid pruning during the growing season as maples tend to bleed sap. Regular pruning is important because it provides air circulation throughout the canopy, helps you maintain a desirable shape, and is essential to remove any dead, damaged, or diseased branches. However, it should be noted that it needs little pruning to develop a strong structure.

Acer griseum, the Paperbark maple is a handsome ornamental tree with a small-to-medium stature and year-round interest. This is one of the most beauti…

Pests/Problems

Paperbark Maple, along with most other maples, is susceptible to verticillium wilt. This maple is generally free of anything serious as far as other pests and diseases go. There are currently no pests or diseases that might cause mortality in this maple.

You may encounter the more commonly occurring ornamental diseases such as anthracnose and powdery mildew.

Leaf Lore

Paperbark Maple is native to China and was introduced to the United States in the early 1900s. Ernest Henry Wilson, a notable British plant explorer, and collector, is responsible for introducing nearly 2000 Asian plant species to the West. In 1907, Wilson went on an expedition to China on behalf of the Arnold Arboretum. During that expedition, Wilson dug up two seedlings from a woodland north of Yichang, in the Hubei Province located in central China. These two seedlings were sent to the Arboretum and are still standing today. They are the first and oldest specimens on the North American continent. Over the next couple of decades, the Arboretum observed the species.

Interestingly enough, the species was discovered to be androdioecious. This reproduction method can be summarized by the coexistence of males and hermaphrodites within the species. The larger of the two specimens was a male, which did not produce seeds. It was last measured at an astounding 64 feet tall and 44 feet wide!

The smaller specimen is a hermaphrodite containing both male and female parts. This specific individual was the seed source for the first generation of paperbark maples planted in North America. In 1927, distribution began to plant collectors and nurseries around the continent.

Companion Plants

Thanks to its adaptability, many plants pair with Paperbark Maple. Common understory plantings complimenting this specimen include sedges, ferns, pachysandra, vinca, peony, rhododendron, and hostas.

If you’re looking for another tree to complement this species, we recommend Korean Maple or the Ivory Silk Japanese Tree Lilac.

Acer griseum, the Paperbark maple is a handsome ornamental tree with a small-to-medium stature and year-round interest. This is one of the most beauti…
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Written by Miles Minter