Henry’s Maple, Acer henryi

Henry maple tree
Micki McNaughton, DNR staffer and co-author of this article, with a Henry’s maple tree. Micki planted this tree in her former capacity as the City of Olympia’s Neighborwoods Coordinator. Photo: Ben Thompson/DNR.

I know what you’re thinking. More maples trees? Red, Sugar, Silver, Vine, Bigleaf, Norway, Sycamore, Japanese, Paperbark, Amur, Trident, Hedge, Armstrong, Bowhall, blah, blah, blah. As if we need more maples in urban forests of the Pacific Northwest.

If you’re a city forester, or if your sarcasm sensor is properly tuned, then you know why we have more than enough maple trees. They’re easy to grow, cheap to buy, quick to establish, ablaze with fall color, tolerant of urban stresses, and pretty darn predictable in the landscape. Nonetheless, urban foresters are fed up with thuggish Norway maples, frustrated with over-planted red maples, divided on the native maples and straight-up bored with the rest of them.

Introducing Henry’s maple, a small tree native to central China and thought to be a subspecies of the closely related ivy-leaf maple (Acer cissifolium), also an Asian maple species. Henry’s maple deserves a Tree Link shout-out because it is interesting, attractive, and a rare find in the landscape (as well as at the nursery) unlike its more popular maple brethren.

Henry maple- trifoliate leaves
Trifoliate leaves of a Henry’s maple with distinctive red petioles. Photo: Ben Thompson/DNR.

Henry’s maple thrives in USDA zones 6 through 9, and should grow anywhere in Washington, although its performance in alkaline soils is uncertain. The mature size of this utility-friendly tree is approximately 25′ to 30′ tall and equally as wide. Bark tends to be smooth and brown-green in color, darkening with age to a deep olive-brown.

The most appealing qualities of Henry’s maple, however, are found in its canopy. Henry maple is known as a trifoliate maple because each leaf consists of three leaflets rather than a single leaf blade, similar to the leaves of the more familiar paperbark maple (Acer griseum). In early springtime, the Henry’s maple produces pendulous clusters of green buds with delicate, pale yellow flowers. New leaves emerge in seductive shades of red and leaf petioles may retain the red color even after new leaves have donned their typical light green summer dress. Come autumn, leaves blaze red with splashes of bright yellow to liven the spectacle.

Now that you know my friend Henry, ask for him by name at the nursery.

Henry’s maple is definitely a tree to try.

Henry's maple on Olympia street
Note the fading remnants of red-colored new growth on this Henry’s maple in Olympia. Photo: Ben Thompson/DNR.