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One of the most beautiful sights in our woods and forests has got to be the native Vine Maple, Acer circinatum. Typically a multi-stemmed large shrub with telltale maple leaves and elegant tiered branching like that of Japanese Maples, it is often found along waterway, gracefully reaching its branches out over the water, or in the fall providing a soft yellow glow in the dappled light beneath towering conifers.
Acer circinatum is very adaptable, growing well in anything from full shade to nearly full sun (though it really wants protection from the full hot afternoon sun). In sunnier conditions it can more often be found as a single-stemmed small tree; in shade it will more readily form a multi-stemmed clump, the branches reaching and arching in a more vining fashion (even drooping to the ground and rooting to eventually create thickets) that is the source of its common name.
Flowers of wine-red and white form along the branches in the spring, contrasting with the red sheaths covering the yet-to-emerge leaves, giving a colorful show in the garden, especially along with the reddish new woody growth; soft green leaves follow. In the fall, A. circinatum can take on a variety of vibrant color, from soft yellow in shady spots to eye-popping orange/red when sited in more sun.
Whether single or multi-stemmed, A. circinatum rarely get taller than 20’, making it an especially useful plant for smaller, urban gardens, even suitable for large containers. Moderate growth – 1-2’ a year – means it achieves its mature size relatively quickly and can fill a niche in the woodland garden readily.
Give it some sun, a cool, moist root run, and you will have a stunning specimen for your woodland garden or other partially-shady spot. Generally pest and disease free, it can sometimes fall victim to Veriticillium Wilt like other maples; it is not particularly prone to it however, so maintaining good care of the plant will go a long way to keeping it healthy.
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Genus/species: Acer circinatum
Common name: Vine Maple
Characteristics: Symmetrically-lobed and toothed leaves, soft green sometimes tinged with red in spring, turning to yellow/orange/red in the fall. Grows as single or multi-stemmed large shrub / small tree; bark greenish to red, with tiered branching reminiscent of Japanese Maples.
Culture: Can grow in a variety of settings, though will thrive best with regular water and protection from afternoon sun.
Care and maintenance: Prefers acidic soil, rich in organic matter; regular water. Prune only to shape in late fall, early winter.
Pests and diseases: Mostly pest and disease free; however like other maples, it can become afflicted with Verticillium Wilt, but not commonly-so. Leaves will burn if exposed to full afternoon sun, with insufficient irrigation.