The fiery orange leaves with hints of gold are causing visitors from all regions of the country to react with glee and amazement. Believe it or not I am talking about a maple, here in the Deep South — Savannah, Ga., of all places.
Botanically, it is known as Acer oliveranum ssp. formosanum. But don’t let the big words deter you. This is a spectacular tree known as Oliver’s Taiwanese maple, or Chinese maple, and is hardy from zones 6 to 9. It is second to none when it comes to color.
I posted a photo recently on our Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden’s Facebook page and within minutes I had an unexpected testimony. The admirer wrote: “I make a ride every year just to see this particular tree. I have been watching and loving this tree for 10 plus years now.”
Since we were a Plant Introduction Station, no one really knows when this exquisite specimen was planted. We do know it has demonstrated heat tolerance and has made its way to other trials. Finally it is starting to gain the acclaim it deserves.
It does resemble a Japanese maple, and in fact some suppliers have called it a southern cousin. Coral buds emerge in the spring followed by deep green palmate leaves. Ours is grown mostly surrounded by other larger trees but gets brief direct sun. It shows no summer scorching. The fall colors, which are unbeatable, are reminiscent of mounds of glowing embers.
The tree is ideal for the urban landscape, reaching 15 to 18 feet in height, topped by an oval crown with an equal to slightly larger spread. It is not a staple at the garden center, but maple nurseries are adding them to their product lines, and it is available via mail order. If you find one locally, fall is a terrific time to plant.
When you plant, choose a site in partial shade, protected from wind. The soil should be well-drained, moist, and fertile. Create a bed, for it and any companion plants. Spread a 4-inch layer of fine pine bark and humus or peat and till to a depth of 10 inches. Dig the hole 3 to 5 times as wide as the rootball but no deeper. The rootball’s top should be even with the soil line. After planting, water deeply and add a 3-inch layer of mulch.
When planting in summer, I like to form a 4-inch berm outside the root-ball area that can hold about 5 gallons of water. This really allows water to be directed where it is needed most. Be sure to keep mulched. I normally remove the berm after the first year, or once I feel the tree has become established.
Oliver’s Taiwanese maple excels as a stand-alone specimen, but the truly outstanding displays are made when tall pines or American hollies are used to create a green curtain as a backdrop, making the fiery orange even more spectacular. My other choice for companion plants would be purple Encore azaleas, like Autumn Royalty and Autumn Amethyst, that offer showy blooms in spring, summer, and fall.
If you have been longing for fiery orange for your fall landscape, start your search now for this outstanding maple.