There is something very special about very small plants. They seem to capture the world in miniature, the very essence of ‘forest’ encapsulated in one tiny tree. A tree no taller than we seem to suddenly make us giants, and these trees play tricks with our minds. Often it takes many years of skilled pruning and training to create that illusion, but there are just a few unique trees, with slender branches and small leaves, that do it quite naturally. The Kamagata Japanese Maple is one of them, a tree that grows just a few feet tall, but looks all ‘tree’, with upright branches, a low trunk, and small, deeply-divided leaves completing the picture. As a specimen in a small garden, or in a pot, it is perfection, and its wonderful foliage colors are a big bonus.
Growing Kamagata Japanese Maple Trees
The Kamagata Japanese Maple grows to be between 4 and 6 feet tall, upright, with a spread of between 2 and 3 feet. Unlike many dwarf plants it is not just a bushy clump of twigs, but a truly miniature tree, with a trunk and branches, densely covered with delicate leaves. The small leaves are long and elegant, with three or five narrow lobes like fingers or claws, that curve gracefully downwards, giving this tree a soft profile. It is sometimes called the Eagle’s Claw maple, because of the shape of the leaves. In spring the edges of each lobe are colored dark red, which transforms gradually into a rich green for the summer. Then in fall they turn first yellow, then orange, and finally a brilliant red. When young and newly planted this tree adds just a few inches a year, but once well established it will grow 6 inches or even more each year, so its does not take long to reach its mature size.
There are so many possibilities for growing the Kamagata Japanese Maple in a garden. Its miniature scale makes it ideal for courtyards and enclosed areas, or small gardens. Plant it beside a pathway in an open woodland garden, or by a door or entrance, to be enjoyed each time you come and go. This is an ideal tree for planters and containers, and it looks charming and graceful planted in an elegant pot. It is indispensable for any type of Asian-influenced planting, and of course, it is perfect for a bonsai specimen, needed very little elaborate pruning to become a perfect miniature jewel. It responds well to pruning, and it is easy to emphasize its tree-like form by removing some of the internal branches and twigs, so that you create the illusion of a full-sized forest tree very simply – the tree itself will do most of the work, which is part of what makes this variety so special.
The Kamagata Japanese Maple may look delicate, but this is a tough and reliable tree – just as reliable as other much larger Japanese maples are. It grows from zone 5 to 9, so it can be planted in most of the country. In cooler zones it can be planted in full sun, but in warmer and drier areas, afternoon shade is preferable, or the light shade beneath larger trees, or in the shadow of a wall. The ideal soil is moist, rich in organic material and well-drained, so add plenty of good compost, well-rotted leaves or manure when planting, and use them as regular mulch over the roots. Keep mulch clear of the trunk and apply in early fall or early spring. This will keep the soil cool and moist, which this tree enjoys. Water regularly, especially during hot, dry weather, to avoid the foliage burning.
History and Origins of Kamagata Japanese Maple Trees
There are many, many forms of the Japanese maple, Acer palmatum. This small tree, growing about 25 feet tall and wide in nature, but sometimes reaching 40 feet, can be found growing in woods and on hills across Japan, as well as in China and Korea. With their love of nature and the unusual, the Japanese have been collecting and treasuring special forms of this tree for centuries, and most of the many varieties we grow have their origins in Japan. The variety called ‘Kamagata’ is an exception, as it was selected by J.D. Vertrees, the renowned world expert on Japanese maples, who lived in Oregon. Although he grew hundreds of different varieties in his vast collection, he was so discerning that in his lifetime he only selected two new plants from among the thousands of seedlings he grew. One of them was ‘Kamagata’. Its unique miniature but tree-like form was what made it so special to him, and it does that to everyone who encounters it.
Appropriately, Vertrees named it with humility for his achievements, because kama gata means ‘without privilege’ or ‘modest’ in Japanese – modest in size, and modest about his remarkable contributions to the world of Japanese maples. Although this variety is sometimes called the Eagle’s Claw maple, it should not be confused with the actual variety, ‘Eagle Claw’, which has similar leaves but a weeping form. We are pleased to have a supply of this wonderful tree to offer, but our maple enthusiasts will snap them up, so order right away, as they will be gone very, very soon.