Gardens need bigger plants, it is true, to fill bigger areas, and give structure and form to your garden space. But small plants have an important place too, not just in small gardens, but in every garden. When it comes to tiny trees, an absolute jewel is the Little Gem Vine Maple, which really lives up to its name, with its tiny leaves glowing green on the bushy stems and reaching hardly more than 3 feet in height.
Growing Little Gem Vine Maple Trees
The Little Gem Vine Maple is a small, shrubby, deciduous tree, with many slender stems, forming a broad plant, growing 2 to 3 feet tall and spreading over 3 feet wide, perhaps even reaching 6 feet across in time. The stems are deep red, making a bright splash of color in the winter garden. In spring the tiny leaves are flushed with burgundy, gradually turning into a bright mid-green. The leaves are between ½ and 1½ inches across, with five pointed lobes and an almost circular overall shape. In fall the leaves turn beautiful shades or bright yellow, orange and red, with darker tones predominating when the tree is grown in full sun. The foliage is reminiscent of Japanese maples, but broader, without the very narrow lobes often seen on those trees. Being broader they do not shrivel and burn in hot weather, as some Japanese maples sadly do, so this tree can be kept beautiful all summer long much more easily than Japanese maples can be.
Young trees of the Little Gem Vine Maple are upright, with several stems growing from the base, on a short trunk. In time more and more branches form, until the plant is a broad bush. The possibilities for this tree in your garden are almost unlimited. Plant it in a favored spot in the front of a bed, as an accent point and a source of daily pleasure. Plant it among rocks on a slope, or in a rock garden. Since it tolerates shade, make it a feature in a woodland or shaded area – it will look splendid. Of course, with its small size, it is perfect for planters and pots too. Do you have an Asian garden, or love bonsai trees? You won’t need to do the elaborate training normally needed to turn large trees into fabulous potted trees, when you grow this beauty. Just plant it in a beautiful pot – and you have an instant bonsai.
Not only is the Little Gem Vine Maple beautiful, it is easy to grow and adaptable too. It is hardy all the way from zone 5 into the heat of zone 9, and once established it is drought tolerant. It grows well in full sun, but as well it grows happily in partial and ever full shade. The natural environment of the vine maple is below larger trees, so in shade it will be more open and broader, but it grows well and it will still be beautiful. This tree tolerates a wide range of soils, from drier ground to wetter areas, but not ones that are always flooded. This tree is easy to grow, despite its delicate look, and this is no fragile beauty that needs lots of special care – not at all. Once established it will grow with no problems, and it will become more and more beautiful with each passing year.
History and Origins of Little Gem Vine Maple Trees
The Little Gem Vine Maple is a special form of a North American native tree, Acer circinatum. That tree is found growing naturally in woodlands from southern British Columbia down into northern California. Despite growing wild only in North America, it is closely related not to sugar maple, or red maple, but to Japanese and Korean maple trees which grow all the way across the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles away. In fact, it is very similar to the Autumn Moon Maple, Acer shirasawanum, a prized Japanese tree with broad leaves, but more difficult to grow.
Witch’s brooms are clusters of miniature stems growing on full-sized plants, and they are a common source of dwarf varieties of shrubs and evergreens. The Little Gem Vine Maple was found this way, originally by Alleyne Cook, head gardener at the Ted and Mary Greig Rhododendron Garden in Stanley Park, a very large park in Vancouver, British Columbia. He found a vine maple growing in the garden with a witch’s broom on it. Everything about those special stems was small, with the leaves just ¼ of their normal size, and slender stems to match them. Around 1970 he showed this tree to Harold Greer, who owned the Greer Gardens nursery in Eugen, Oregon. Greer thought that a friend of his would be really interested, and he arranged for some pieces to be sent to him. That was the internationally-renowned Japanese maple expert J.D. Vertrees, whose Maplewood Nursery was in Roseburg, Oregon. He certainly was interested, and he grafted pieces of it onto seedling vine maples to see how it developed. It grew well, and he called this new plant ‘Little Gem’.
Our plants of the Little Gem Vine Maple are grown in the same way – by attaching pieces onto seedling vine maples and growing them into beautiful young specimens. You will love this little charmer, which will grow steadily into a beautiful feature. Although widely recommended by top gardeners, it is very hard to find stock, but we have some. Such a rarity will soon be gone, so order right away, because this is a chance not to be missed.