Japanese maple is a species with many variations. It can grow as a large shrub or a small tree. Many cultivars are available with different characteristics such as finely dissected leaves and weeping branches. Not all cultivars are fully hardy in zone 5 and may need protection in winter.
Native geographic location and habitat:
The Japanese maple is native to China, Japan, and Korea.
Bark color and texture:
The bark of the main trunk is usually smooth and gray. Younger stems are often shiny and may be red, green, or purple and can be very ornamental in winter.
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:
Leaves are in simple and arranged in opposite pairs. The leaf is deeply divided into five to nine lobes. Their appearance can vary a great deal by cultivar. Some cultivars have green leaves, while others have red or purple foliage. Leaves may be finely dissected, even to the point of appearing to be compound. Fall color also varies by cultivar.
Flower arrangement, shape, and size:
Small flowers open in late spring and may be red or purplish. They are ornamental when viewed close up.
Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:
Fruit are winged seeds in pairs (samaras) that are 1/2 to 3/4 inch long. They are green, often maturing to red in fall and are mildly ornamental.
Avoid pruning maples in spring as they are bleeders and will lose a large amount of sap. Japanese maples do best in a partly shaded site with a consistent supply of water. Dry soils can lead to leaf scorch.
List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:
Susceptible to anthracnose, verticillium wilt, and leaf scorch ,which can be a problem in dry, sunny sites.
There are hundreds of cultivars of Japanese maples. They vary quite a bit in hardiness, size, leaf color, and leaf type. The cultivars mentioned here are known to be successful in zone 5 if properly sited.
Bloodgood Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’):
This is a rounded form, growing 18 feet high and wide. Summer foliage is purple-red, changing to red in autumn. Leaves are the non-dissected type.
Crimson Queen Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Crimson Queen’):
This is a weeping or mounded form, growing 6 feet high and 8 feet wide. Summer foliage is purple-red, changing to scarlet in autumn. Leaves are dissected (cutleaf).
Emperor I Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Wolff’):
An upright, rounded, mid-sized Japanese maple, growing to 18 feet high and 16 feet wide. Foliage is purple-red in summer, changing to scarlet red in autumn. It is late to leaf out, so it’s more tolerant of late frost.
Lion’s Head Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’):
This is a vase-shaped form with deep green summer foliage. This compact cultivar reaches 15 feet high by 10 feet wide with golden to orange-red fall color. Its crinkled leaves make the foliage particularly interesting.
Orangeola Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Orangeola’):
This cultivar is a weeping form with highly dissected leaves that are orange in spring, green during the summer, and bright orange in autumn. This Japanese maple grows to 8 feet high and wide.
Tamukeyama Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Tamukeyama’):
Another weeping or mounded form, growing 10 feet high by 12 feet wide. New foliage emerges crimson-red then deepens to purple-red. Leaves are dissected (cutleaf).
Viridis Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Viridis’):
A weeping form, growing 8 to 10 feet high and 8 feet wide. Foliage is dissected (cutleaf) and green. Fall color is gold to orange-red.