There are approximately 125 species of maples (genus Acer) in the world. Most are native to Asia, but some also occur in Europe, northern Africa, and North America.
The word acer is derived from a Greek word meaning "sharp" and refers to the characteristic points on the leaves. Westonbirt holds National Collections for both maple species and Japanese maple cultivars – the latter often referred to (perhaps confusingly) as ‘acers’. Maples provide the foundation for Westonbirt’s world-renowned autumn colour spectacle.
Many of Westonbirt's maples are also worth searching out at other times of year. In spring their small but beautiful flowers and their young leaves (which come in a surprising variety of colours) also provide interest.
Some species such as paperbark maple (Acer griseum) and the snake bark maples (including Acer pensylvanicum and Acer davidii) display wonderful bark patterns and look their best in winter. Most share characteristic hand-shaped leaves with varying degrees and numbers of lobes or 'fingers'.
Some of Westonbirt's maples are listed below. You can use the Westonbirt Interactive Map to find other specimens and specific locations - visit the map at www.thewestonbirtmap.org.uk.
Cappadocian maple, Acer cappadocicum
A native of the Caucasus Mountains, Himalaya and China, the Cappadocian maple was introduced to Britain in 1838.
It is one of the few maples that grows suckers around the base of the trunk. The leaf is distinctive, having broad-based lobes that end in fine filamentous points. In autumn the leaves turn butter-yellow. Several can be seen along Broad Drive.
Downy Japanese maple, Acer japonicum
This species of maple is native to the islands of Honshu and Hokkaidō in Japan.
Like the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), it has given rise to a number of cultivated varieties (cultivars) including ‘Aconitifolium’ (pictured right), a striking form with deeply cut leaves.
Hornbeam maple, Acer Carpinifolium
This Japanese tree (introduced 1879) is unusual in that its leaves are unlobed and resemble those of the hornbeam with a serrated edge. Our best example is on Main Drive and is a UK champion tree.
Japanese maple is native to Japan, Korea, Taiwan and eastern China and was introduced to Britain in 1820. It is not a large tree, often growing as an understory plant in shady woodlands.
The Japanese maple shows considerable variation, even in nature - which has led to the selection of hundreds of cultivars each with their own leaf size, shape and colour. The arboretum has over 250 Japanese maple cultivars. Acer Glade (Old Arboretum), Maple Loop and The Link (Silk Wood) are the best places to see them.
Sugar maple, Acer saccharum
The sugar maple is the largest American maple and one of the most important ecologically. Introduced to Britain in 1735, the leaves have five lobes and in autumn, become bright yellow through tones of orange and red. The sugar maple is the major source of sap for making maple syrup. The wood is also one of the hardest of the maples and is prized for furniture and flooring. Bowling alleys and bowling pins are both commonly manufactured from sugar maple. One of our best specimens is at the junction of Circular Drive and Loop Walk.
The Oregon maple was introduced from North America in 1812. It has the largest leaves (15 inches across) of all maples and is also known as the bigleaf maple.
The Oregon maple shows good autumn colour of yellow, gold, and copper. Our largest tree stands over 30m tall and can be seen near Holly Bush gate close to the new bird-viewing hide.
Silver maple, Acer saccharinum
The quick growing silver maple is a large tree native to North America and was introduced to in Britain 1725. As the name suggests the leaves are silvery white underneath. Examples can be seen close to Willesley Drive in Silk Wood.
Red maple, Acer rubrum
Red maple (introduced 1656) is one of the most common and widespread deciduous trees of eastern North America. It also has the most highly variable characteristics of any North American maple.
Its tiny but numerous red flowers often provide quite a show in spring when they cover the still leafless branches. An early turner, leaves change to a brilliant red from the ends of the branches first, and colour is usually finished by the end of September.
Moosewood maple, Acer pensylvanicum
Moosewood belongs to a group of maples known collectively as the snakebark maples – thanks to the resemblance of their stripy bark patterns. As the species name pensylvanicum suggests it is native to North America and particularly to Pennsylvania. It gains its common name from being a favoured food of moose.
Paperbark maple, Acer griseum
Native to China, the paperbark maple was introduced by Ernest Wilson in 1901. Its main attractive feature is its peeling red bark but it also provides good autumn colour. The trifoliate leaves (with three leaflets) turn crimson and then deep red by the end of October.