Many people are familiar with the Japanese maples, with their wide range of delicate foliage shapes, habits varying from upright to pendulous, and their spectacular fall colors. Japan boasts more than one species of maple, and for the Japanese, and for discerning gardeners worldwide, there is another one they love and highly esteem. That is the Full Moon Maple. This small tree has larger, fuller leaves than the ordinary Japanese maples, and the name ‘full moon’ comes from the almost circular shape of the leaf, and the spectacular fall shades of yellow and red. The leaves can be up to six inches across, and although divided into lobes like those of its cousin, these are broader, and spread out to make the leaf an almost complete circle.
Because it only forms a small tree, no taller than ten feet, this is an ideal deciduous tree for a smaller garden, a more intimate area of a larger garden, a courtyard, or in a large container on a terrace or patio. If your garden is Asian-inspired, then as a rare and beautiful alternative to a regular Japanese maple, this tree is unbeatable. It will grow in a sunny spot, or in warmer areas, partial shade is better, and any soil that does not become too dry will suit it perfectly.
For some people, Japanese maples have a reputation for being difficult to grow, but that is chiefly a problem only with those that have extremely fine foliage, which can scorch in hot summer weather. This is not the case with the Fernleaf Full Moon Maple. The leaves are fuller and larger, so scorching is much less of a problem, unless the tree is neglected. With normal care, a location that is a little shaded in the early afternoon, and some attention to mulch and water during summer, this tree will thrive even for beginners, and add great beauty for minimal input.
Japan has several species of maples growing, but unlike the magnificent forest giants of North America, most are smaller trees that grow below larger trees, in some shade. This means they are great choices for our gardens, where we often have larger trees throwing shade, or shade from buildings. The fact that these Japanese maples stay smaller is another bonus in this age of small city gardens. These kinds of restricted and enclosed spaces are perfect for simple planting, with a few choice trees and shrubs, and it is important to make every tree count – by choosing something special and a little outside the ordinary. The Fernleaf Full Moon Maple is not often available at ordinary garden stores, yet it has so much to offer.
Coming from the woods of Japan, Northern China and Korea, the Full Moon Maple, Acer japonicum, has been prized for centuries for its grace and rounded, larger leaves. The form ‘Aconitifolium’ has leaves more deeply divided – into 9 to 11 lobes – forming the delicate ‘fingers’ that make the leaf resemble a hand. This is why it is called ‘Fernleaf’. It forms a broad upright tree, 7 to 10 feet tall and as much across, with several slender trunks, and smooth bark that will become rougher on very old trees. In spring the new stems have fine white hairs on them, as do the undersides of the leaves, and even the young seeds. This feature, and the larger, rounded leaves, distinguishes the tree from other Japanese maples. The name ‘Aconitifolium’ comes from a resemblance between the leaf of this variety and the leaf of the monkshood, a perennial plant called by botanists Aconitum.
The foliage opens in spring a delicate, light green, turning a cooling green all summer, and then in fall developing spectacular colors of gold and vibrant crimson, rivaling the display of the sugar maple. This tree is more cold tolerant than many Japanese maples, so we recommend it for those in cooler areas, as an excellent alternative. It thrives in all the cooler parts of the country, and relishes damp climates, although it will grow well in all but the hot or dry states. Even in warmer areas, with a careful choice of location – on that has shade from the hottest hours of sun, it will still thrive, if it received regular watering. No pruning or trimming is required – just remove any dead twigs that may appear as the tree grows.
The subtle but valuable differences between this tree and regular Japanese maples make it a great alternative and a ‘must-have’ for collectors. It is not widely available, so we know that our stocks will not last. Order now while you still have the opportunity to acquire this eastern treasure.