Tree of the Year

In 2017 I took monthly photos of a particular tree @CUBotanicGarden, and in 2018 I did the same for a hedge. Neither sequence when laid end to end was in fact particularly inspiring, so in 2019 I went for one of the most spectacular specimen trees in the garden, and it did not disappoint.

The Japanese maple Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ is a cultivar holding the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) of the Royal Horticultural Society. The binomial Acer palmatum was first applied by Carl Pehr Thunberg (1743–1828) in his Flora japonica of 1784, and the first specimen of the genus reached Great Britain in 1820.

Carl Pehr Thunberg, by Per Krafft the Younger (1777–1863). (Credit: University of Uppsala)

Many cultivars had been created by Japanese gardeners over the centuries, using plants from Korea and China as well as Japan itself. ‘Osakazuki’ seems to be over a century old, but I haven’t been able to find out if it was bred in East or West.

The section from Thunberg’s Flora japonica (1784) which describes Acer palmatum among six types of Japanese acers.

It is quite large for a Japanese maple, and can reach up to 4 metres of height and spread, so that if it is suitably pruned you can walk under it and look through the canopy – though I have seen many grown as multi-stems, and apparently they do well in containers. So here is a sequence of pictures, beginning in a bleak January and following a year’s growth until the apotheosis in November, after which it returns to dormancy again.

In January, only the deep leaf litter hints as to what is to come …

Slight swelling of the buds in February…

… and more on a very windy day in March when the plant label has been blown sideways.

In April the leaves and flowers are opening.

Fully open in May, the leaves have lost their original red blush, though the seeds retain it.

In June, the seed pods fatten out.

In July, the leaves are at their fullest and palest.

In August, the seeds start to drop.

By September, the leaves are beginning to turn bronze, the topmost first.

In October, bronze starts to change to crimson.

In November, things turn spectacular …

And in December it’s all over for another year.





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2 Responses to Tree of the Year

  1. Peter Williams says:

    Thank you for this and all other excellent postings.

    Osakazuki is a really excellent cultivar that unlike so many others, does not suffer from dieback of branches. The fruits also contain a high proportion of embryos that germinate easily to give a crop of seedlings with a wonderful range of leaf colours and forms.


    • Thank you for your kind words! I am seriously thinking of getting an Osakazuki for my own garden. I have a very old Beni-shichihenge, which is increasingly dying back along all its branches, and I suspect may not last much longer, so Osakazuki may be a good replacement.


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