The Paper bark maple (Acer griseum) was brought from Europe to North America around 1907 but is native to central China. It is a small to medium-sized deciduous ornamental tree. It is named for its shiny orange-red bark peeling in thin papery layers. The paper bark maple has compound leaves with trifoliate toothed long leaflets turning orange, red or reddish-green in the fall. The winged samaras with large seeds look a like those on a Norway maple tree. The paperbark maple often grows multiple trunks, even branching quite close to the ground. This gives it a vase-shaped, sculptured appearance, particularly after leaf fall in the winter. Discovered by Ernest H Wilson in 1901 and almost immediately became a garden favorite. Acer is the Latin name for “maple”; the specific epithet come from the Latin griseus, meaning “gray.
Common name: Paperbark Maple
Scientific Name (order and family): Acer griseum (Franchet) Pax (Sapindaceae, Sapindales)
Species Origin: Central China
New Jersey Status: USDA Unreported
Habit: Small tree of 20 – 30’ tall x 15 – 25’ wide.
Habitat: Zones 5 – 7. Mountain woods.
Trunk/Stem: Bark reddish to pale, cinnamon-brown, peeling in thin papery flakes.
Leaves: Deciduous, Trifoliate Compound, Opposite. Compound with three elliptical leaflets each with several large blunt teeth on each side; the central leaflet is 4” long and 2” wide with short rachis; lateral leaflets are sessile. The petiole of the leaf is distinctly pubescent. The blade is dark green above; blue-white and pubescent below turning red in autumn.
Flowers: Monoecious. Greenish yellow. Few or solitary on long pedicel, 1”long, drooping clusters; pubescent peduncles. Blooming in late spring.
Fruits and seeds: Paired samaras, app. 90o spread.
Not familiar with the word samara? Samara refers to the winged fruit of trees like the elm, ash, and maple. It looks like a key that winds up clocks or toys, and its unique shape enables it to spin like a helicopter’s rotor and drift away from its tree. In Latin, Samara just means “seed of the elm.” Its shedding bark and trifoliate leaves are distinctive.