Vine Maple Acer circinatum,
a Native Beauty

"The stripped & shapely Maple grieves
The ghosts of her Departed leaves."

-John Updike


Well honest to goddess, we were only going to Bainbridge Nursery on that particular occasion, late in 2001, because it was the nearest place that sells those beneficial-fungus tablets & on Kruckeberg's say-so (in Gardening with Native Plants) I didn't want to put the Mountain Hemlock in the ground without making sure the hemlock's roots would have plenty of this essential fungus. Probably there's already enough in the ground naturally, but why take the chance, Kruckeberg said it was particularly important for mountain hemlock.

This was round about Thanksgiving. At the nursery there was a huge vine maple I'd looked at previously when it was still fully leaved & I wished I could have it. It was a truly spectacular specimen, but it was in the biggest pot they ever use, meaning two big burly guys might be able to shove it over flat ground, but it seemed out of the question for us to get it over a fence & around to the east-facing opposite side of the house where there's a perfect spot for it. So Granny Artemis & I took another look at it while at the nursery ostensibly for nothing but the beneficial fungus tablets, & intending only to whine & moan that the vine maple was too big to get over the fence.

Vine Maple Bloom With it's leaves dropped, the stunning form of the branches was all the more evident, & this was most obviously a specimen that would have year-round beauty. By its shape, by the lichen & moss hanging from the the many naked limbs, well, gracious, it was no one bit less gorgeous after complete leaf-fall than when in full leaf.

There were a half-dozen vine maples sitting around it, none came even close to this one's beauty, though they were all nice enough. The others had multiple smaller trunks, this one had one big main trunk, & a "hump" in the trunk at the crown you one could sit on, & the overhanging branches practically formed a living gazebo. As I & my sweety stood there bemoaning our fate in not being able to get it in the yard, Junko, the Japanese chap who owns the nursery, overheard us. He said if we hired two of his men, & so long as there were no staircases or steep hillsides, he would have it delivered & positioned exactly where we want it for, oh what was it, a hundred dollars extra I think it was.

Well that's one hell of a delivery charge but this nursery is a bit far away, & moving the tree as far in from the road as we need it, probably a hundred dollars for two laborers & delivery combined is a fair price. We still had to hem & haw about how much money we already spent on trees during a year-end nursery sale a week before, & how broke we were feeling, gripe complain moan. So Junko took pity on all our whinging & gave us a substantial discount on the tree in exchange for his men not leaving the giant pot with us after they get the tree in the ground. Well, I sort of wanted that pot for compost, but I wanted the discount more.

It was delivered by Thanksgiving. In the meantime I had some digging to do. It was the biggest hole I'd ever dug. We'd gotten some taller trees before, but none with quite this huge of a big dense root. When the two young men arrived, we watched & learned quite a bit about managing big heavy trees. They rigged up a slide to get that big thing off the truck & over the fence, then dragged it across the whole front of the house, around a corner, through a narrow passageway into the back yard. Then they struggled to get it out of the enormous square pot (which involved laying the tree down, climbing up on the side of the pot, & jumping up & down on it to loosen the roots' grasp of the container), lift it upright into the hole, then shift it this way & that way as we stood saying no, a little more this way, no, a little more that way . . . until it was perfect.

Vine Maple Seeds Even leafless it was immediately such a beauty in our yard. The moss & lichens dangling from it were like holiday decorations. Go check out the pictures on the Vine Maple's Winter Bark Page (plus two more photos with the article on Selecting Shrubs & Trees for Winter Bark) & you'll get a good feeling for how gorgeous the mossy bits make the speckled bark & twisty limbs all winter long.

The wild beauty of the tree gave me to realize that our common local native vine maple really is not outmatched by rare & fancy varieties of Japanese maples. Vine maples are taken too much for granted. I wonder if in Japan, & elsewhere outside the vine maple's range, it gets the respect of a beautiful exotic tree.

There was no shock to the tree because it got moved while it was sound asleep. It woke up in the spring to it's new home & immediately burst into yellow & red blooms! The blooms were still bright when the leaves emerged. Of the photos on this page, the close-up of a flower was taken in April, & the tree in full new leaf was taken early in May, & the shot of the seeds are from mid-May.

Vine Maple Seeds The young seeds look like the eenciest old fighter pilot airplanes if you imagine they're flying one direction, but they look like Canada geese if you imagine them flying the other direction with the the long necks of geese in front rather than the fusilage of a plain in back.

By the end of May & for most of the summer, these maple seeds will have turned bright pink & continue to rest practically on the surface of the leaves like little airplanes waiting to take off & land on the ground in Autumn. A June photo of the seeds shows this wondrously decorative aspect of vine maples.

The big May photo at the top of the page is from the angle standing high up on the raised deck-porch. We're actually looking downward at the tree, so it's hard to tell there really is enough room to walk under the lowest limbs without ducking, though someone six feet tall might have to duck or be brushed by leaves. The spot of lavender at the just beyond the vine mape is a Rhododendron concinnum, & just barely cropped off the bottom of the photo, but growing at the very foot is of the trunk, is a summer-blooming groundcover azalea, R. nakaharae.


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