Taxonomy and Nomenclature: A.K.A. Classification and Naming of Acer plamatum

At first the Latin names used in horticulture can seem to be a bit off putting and hard to remember. Don't worry! After a bit of practice the names will come more easily to you! Honestly!

'Acer' (pronounced Ay-Sir) is the Genus of plants known commonly as maples. Of all the maple species, the Japanese maple (known by its botanical name as Acer palmatum\) is the most variable. It is this variability that we enjoy so much in these much admired trees.

There are three basic sub-species of Acer palmatum. These are: amoenum, matsumurae and palmatum. The word 'palmatum' (pronounced PAL-MATE-UM) comes from the root word PALMATE or palm-like, meaning the leaf looks like the palm of your hand with fingers.

Unnamed red leaved maples sometimes have the generic name Acer palmatum atropurpureum. "Atropurpureum" refers to the red leaf form. Split leaf or cut leaf Japanese maples are referred to as: Acer palmatum dissectum or Acer palmatum dissectum atropurpureum for the red cutleaf form. Dissectum (pronounced DIE-SECK-TUM) simply describes the leaves as being dissected or split (cut) into a fine filigree form.

Naming of particular Japanese maple tree cultivars (cultivar = a distinctive plant maintained by cultivation) follows the rules of the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants. Cultivar names should always be written in roman type with single 'quote' marks after the species name. For example: Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki' or Acer palmatum dissectum atropurpureum 'Crimson queen'.

When you are looking to buy an Acer palmatum (Japanese maple) tree you will need to answer the following questions:

1. What color leaf do you want? Red, green or variegated?
2. What sort of leaf shape would you like? Regular 5-, 7- or 9-pointed leaf or the cutleaf type?
3. How high do you want to tree to grow? Less than 6 feet tall? 6 to 12 feet tall? Over 12 feet tall?
4. Is the tree going to be planted in full sun, partial sun or mainly in the shade?

From the answer to these questions we can progressively do a "Sherlock Holmes" style investigation and eliminate particular named cultivars that do not fit the criteria selected.

For the rest of us, just plain old Japanese maple tree will do!

Examples of popular green leaf Japanese maples cultvars are:

Oskazuki, Sango kaku, Shishigashira

Examples of popular red leaf Japanese maples cultvars are: Bloodgood, Bonfire, Red emperor, Shaina

Examples of popular green cutleaf Japanese maples cultvars are:

Viridis, Waterfall

Examples of popular red cutleaf Japanese maples cultivars are:

Crimson queen, Garnet, Inaba shidare, Orangeola and Red dragon

Author: Ken Alston,
The Japanese Maple Tree Guy.
Ken Alston is a green thumbed British gardener, plant-aholic and secialist nurseryman
who provides gardeners and fellow Japanese maple enthusiasts with valuable advice,
information and hard to find Japanese maple trees, seeds and seedlings.

Free Acer palmatum E-Course:

Go To Acer palmatum Nursery: