Written by Tolly Beck
Tolly Beck is the horticulturist at Lasdon Park and Arboretum in Westchester County. She was formerly a horticulture educator for New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland, NY.
Small yards can be challenging when it comes to tree selection. The paperbark maple, Acer griseum, may be just the answer. This specimen tree is 20-30’ tall at maturity with a spread approximately one-half the height. It is a slow growing tree, putting on 6- 12” each year. It is hardy to zone 4, making it an ideal candidate for our area. This specimen small tree grows best in full sun to part shade. It likes to be in a well-drained soil, but is not fussy about the soil alkalinity or acidity.
The paperbark maple produces leaves that are quite different from most maple trees. The leaves on this maple are trifoliate, with each leaf having 3 leaflets. Leaf color during the spring and summer varies from a blue-green to dark green. In the fall, leaf color is often a spectacular red/orange.
After the leaves have fallen from this deciduous tree, another feature becomes more prominent, its’ interesting bark. The paperbark maple has a beautiful, cinnamon-brown exfoliating bark. The outer bark appears to be peeling back like paper, exposing the smooth, reddish-brown bark beneath it. While this feature is noticeable throughout the year, in winter it puts on quite a show.
The next time you visit Lasdon Park, you can see this lovely tree for yourself. It is just to the right as you enter the Synoptic Shrub Border located off the main path from the parking lot. While the paperbark maple will provide interest and beatuy in all seasons, its’ bark becomes a true landscape stand-out in winter.