The beauty of the red-leaf Japanese maples is obvious, which is why they are so popular. But beauty can be more subtle too, and much of the spirit of Japan is in the appreciation of beauty that takes a little time to contemplate and absorb. This is true of the green leaf Japanese maples, which are sadly often overlooked in favor of instant effect. It would certainly be a big mistake to overlook the Ki-hachijo Japanese Maple just because its leaves are green. Look more closely and appreciate the lacy beauty of its unique deeply-serrated leaf margins. Savor the anticipation of its outstanding fall colors of complex golden yellows and oranges. The more you look, the better it gets. Ki-hachijo translates from Japanese into ‘the charm of eight girls’, suggesting that this tree is more charming than any one young woman, and it would take the grace and beauty of eight to match it – a measure of how much this tree is loved in its homeland.
The Ki-hachijo Japanese Maple is a strong and vigorous plant that grows quickly into a rounded tree between 15 and 20 feet tall, and 12 to 15 feet wide. It grows as a multi-stem tree, and the bark is a special feature. On the trunk and older limbs, the bark is smooth and brown-green, with white vertical wavy lines down it. The older the tree becomes, the more pronounced this winter feature is. The leaves are divided into 7 lobes, cut deeply into the leaf, almost to the base. The leaves are very flat and held horizontally, and their margins are double-serrate, that is, they are cut into ‘teeth’, with those teeth cut again into more. The effect is lacy and delicate, making the leaves appear feathery and soft. The way the leaves splay out, without drooping at the tips, gives the tree a very layered look, which can be further emphasized by some winter pruning. The leaves are very light green in spring, turning into a clear green for summer. Then in fall the tree becomes extraordinary shades of glowing oranges and gold, making a wonderful show that rivals any other maple. The intricate serrations of the leaves pick up and amplifies the way the leaves shade from amber to pumpkin-orange towards their edges, enhancing the beauty of this wonderful tree.
Grow the Ki-hachijo Japanese Maple as an elegant lawn specimen in any style of garden. It is ideal for smaller spaces, where full-sized shade trees would be overpowering and out of scale. Grow it at the back of large beds, where its fall colors will be shown to perfection. Plant it in a clearing in a wooded area, or beneath larger trees. Naturally it will look perfect in any Asian-themed garden, and remember that the Japanese themselves aim for simplicity, charm and subtlety in their gardens – qualities this tree has in abundance. It would also be lovely in a planter or pot, and of course it would make a graceful bonsai tree as well.
The Ki-hachijo Japanese Maple should be grown in full sun in zone 6, if the soil is moist, or in partial shade otherwise, in all zones. Afternoon shade is preferred, with morning sun, and some direct sun is needed to develop the best fall colors. The soil should be moist, well-drained, and enriched with organic material like compost, rotted leaves or well-rotted manure. Use a similar material each year or two, in spring, as mulch over the roots. Keep it away from direct contact with the trunk and cover all the root zone 2 to 4 inches deep. This will keep the roots cool, as well as conserving moisture. With its broader leaves this tree is more resistant to heat, and to some dryness, than many other, more delicate Japanese maples – another plus for this great tree. Watering during dry periods is very valuable, and some tree fertilizer in early spring will encourage vigorous growth, with this tree easily adding 12 inches of new growth each year. Late fall, after the leaves drop, or in winter is the time to do any pruning – do not prune in spring or summer, as this tree will bleed sap at those times. Remove small, twiggy stems from the trunk as it thickens, to reveal the beautiful winter bark, and to show off the grace of the foliage. Pruning is not essential, apart from removing any weak or dead branches, but it will give the tree a mature look sooner. Pests or diseases are normally never an issue with this reliable and durable tree.
The Ki-hachijo Japanese Maple is a special form of the Japanese maple, Acer palmatum. This tree grows naturally in Japan, parts of China, and in Korea. Special forms have been treasured and grown by the Japanese for centuries, and the variety called ‘Ki-hachijo’ is probably of ancient origin, but we have very little information on that. We do know that this tree is highly regarded for the unique form of its leaves, its graceful form, and for its wonderful fall colors. It is rare, so we are pleased to be able to offer it to our discerning customers, who come to us for the very best of the Japanese maples. Order now, because our stock is limited, and it will soon be gone.