Moonstruck by Acer shirasawanum

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Back in May, my husband, Steve, took a day off from work to go with me to go pick up my plant order from a wholesale business.  I told him that I would like to stop at a particular nursery on the route back to see what they have on display.  I do not visit this nursery often because it is not in my neck of the woods but they usually have some unique ornamental trees and evergreen topiaries.  Steve was happy to oblige as long as we had lunch and he could enjoy a couple cold brews before heading there.  No problem.  We hit up a new restaurant called “Fat and Happy” in the area because the name caught our attention.  The food was excellent.  Our day’s agenda was working out perfectly!

Sure enough, upon arriving to the nursery’s small section of unique trees, I spotted a small maple tree labeled as Acer shirasawanum ‘Microphlylla’ standing among some Japanese maples trees and evergreen specimens. The minute I saw it, I said to Steve, “Oh, I saw a tree like this one in  a book by Tracy Disabato-Aust.  The fall colors of the leaves are wonderful!  I’d love to have this.”  Steve didn’t care much about the book reference (because he is not a plant addict).  He just quickly responded with, “Get it.”  I then joked to the nursery guy helping us that going for ‘brewskies’ before stopping here was starting to pay off.

When I got home and referenced Tracy’s book, “50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants,” I realized the small maple tree I had admired in her book was a fernleaf fullmoon maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’).  It has deeply cut leaves, resembling a fern with serrated edges – and the photo of its orange-yellow-red fall colors is really stunning.  Plus she notes it is “long-lived, heat and humidity tolerant, cold-hardy, deer-resistant, insect and disease resistant,” and more.   She also lists the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) as a high-impact, low-care plant, which I also love because its cinnamon colored exfoliating bark is quite attractive.  I regret I didn’t purchase one I spotted during a late season sale a couple years back.  I really regret it actually.

  • FYI: If you spot an unusual, healthy, and “on-sale” tree in late summer to early fall, go for it!  Tree planting in the fall is just fine – and you get a deal. It is time to be on the look-out for good sales of trees and perennials at your local nurseries – many are in mark-down mode!).

But back to when I spotted my new Acer shirasawanum ‘Microphylla’ in May.  It wasn’t on sale, but I was glad we got it anyways.  Acer shirasawanum are commonly called fullmoon maples (or full moon maples) and are similar to Acer japonium in looks.  It gets confusing sometimes if you are a non-hort person, and sometimes if you are a hort-person, and sometimes cultivar are misspelled or abbreviated on the tag, such as mine was.  I’ve seen the cultivar name as ‘Microphyllum’ which means small leaved.  Anyhow, it is classified as a shrub in some sources, or some referred to it as a small upright deciduous tree.  To me, it is a small but elegant tree candidate with bright green rounded leaves, joined to present the shape of the moon.  Thus – perhaps – the common naming of it as fullmoon maple!

Whatever the reason for its naming, this small tree is a perfect candidate for a container garden on my deck at home or yours too!  It is small enough for a pot – not too overwhelming, has very attractive leaves, and pretty winged fruit known as samaras with red tinged edges that hang on for a long time as a nice feature, plus fullmoon maples (the straight species, Acer japonicum) are known to be a bit more cold-hardy than Japanese maples, per some references.  Mine is also similar to Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’, known as the golden fullmoon maple. ‘Aureum’ has golden yellow leaves that turn orange in the fall.  Everyone is pretty much familiar with Japanese maples, but fullmoon maples, at least from my experience, are not as commonly sold at my local nurseries but they should be – they are just lovely!

Having this small ornament tree on a patio in a container can create a little bit of elevation, adding some structure, or a sense of dimension to your space.  Mine is situated near a low lounge style chair, and as the morning sun hits the leaves, shade patterns are cast on the chair.

When I brought it home, I actually said, aloud, “Welcome to your new home” as I removed it from the worn out nursery pot that day, and replanted into a much larger home, a faux stone container.  I could imagine the tree’s roots awakening to moist, well drained, organic soil in its new dwellings.  It wasn’t long before I could see the leaves perking up in response in a few days, and the stems looking healthier and greener in a few weeks.  These moments of revival made me appreciate nature and the tree more.

A patio umbrella near it provided some shade, as it prefers sun to part-shade conditions. And, as of this writing, in August, the trunk is so much larger.  It has expanded and I can just tell this plant took off and loves its new home.  I was so pleased to give it a new lease on life.  And to have a different candidate among my other container gardens on my deck!  Trees are candidates for container gardening too, don’t overlook them!  Adding trees can really create a new feeling to an area.

I am moonstruck by fullmoon cultivars now, yet the best part is to come in the fall.  The leaves will transform from a bright green to amazing yellow (and maybe some orange and red hues too).  I can’t wait to see this and take a photo.  After that phase, I will have the choice of overwintering it inside (doubtful as I lack space), or placing it into a dormant state in a protected environment, or transplanting into my yard (most probable).  This plant is hardy to USDA zone 5.  Be on the look out for them or other related ornamental maples, and for more information, see these links:

Recently voted Best Garden Center by New Britain Herald, 2011.  I like their tree offerings, limited supply but usually those I don’t see commonly elsewhere.  I didn’t know they got that vote until I wrote this blog!  How cool!

“50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants” by Tracy Disabato-Aust, a favorite author and professional designer.  All of the plants in this book I enjoy – and hopefully will acquire those I don’t have yet as I have some of them already – plus the fullmoon now!

A great new restaurant and bar in Newington, CT.  Check out their offerings!  The funny part of this story is we didn’t realize one of my distant relatives owns this great new restaurant and bar!  Imagine our surprise when we discovered that.  It is lovely inside with lots of tv’s for sports lovers (in case you are not into plants!)

Envied by us all
The leaves of maple
turn so
Beautiful, then fall

Thanks!  Cathy T (www.cathytesta.c0m) of Cathy T’s Landscape Designs – specializing in container gardening, designs of landscapes for DIY’ers, located in Broad Brook, CT.  Comments are welcome!

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