"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Japanese Maples Preparing for Spring

From The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture (Vol. 1) by Liberty Hyde Bailey:

“The maples are hardy ornamental trees or shrubs, with handsome large foliage which, in some species, shows a remarkable tendency to vary in shape and coloring. Numerous garden forms are in cultivation.

“Though the flowers are small, they are quite attractive in the early-flowering species…. [In] some species the young fruits assume a bright red color…. Nearly all assume & splendid color in autumn, especially the species of North America and Eastern Asia, which surpass by far the European maples…. The Japanese maples… are among the most striking and showy exotic small trees, and are adapted for fine grounds and for growing in pots.”

From Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants In Your Garden by Noel Kingsbury:

“North American maples were brought to Europe during the 18th century. Maximovich was responsible for many introductions from the Russian Far East, Japan, and China. Plant hunting in southern and eastern China continued to bring in introductions, until virtually all species had been discovered and introduced by the early 20th century. The larger maples have proved popular as landscape trees, with the numerous smaller species proving to be successful garden plants. The diversity of the Asian species has led to much connoisseur interest in the West.

“East Asian
Acer palmatum shows particularly high diversity. In Japan the first literary mentions were in the Nara period; it was certainly cultivated in the Heian, when the nobles would hold leaf-hunting competitions in the woods. Over 100 selections were made during the Edo period, with yellow leaves the most highly rated — a Chinese influence, as yellow was seen as the highest-status colour (and traditionally reserved for the emperor); 40 were specifically grown as bonsai. So central are maples to the Japanese autumn aesthetic that the word momichi, originally used to describe all autumn colour, came to be a synonym for kaede, the original word for maple.”


The photos below show two different varieties of Japanese Maple as they produce new leaves and get ready for spring. Both are large weeping shrubs that cascade over stone walls at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. The last three photos are my favorites of this series: I caught them at just the right time to display some of their unusual shapes and intense colors, which will last only a day or two as the leaves unfold.

Thanks for taking a look!

Winter Shapes: Japanese Maple Leaves (2 of 2)

From The Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They Live, and Why They Matter by Colin Tudge:

“[Trees] do not dwell only in the present. They remember the past, and they anticipate the future.

“How trees remember, I do not know: I have not been able to find out. But they do. At least, what they do now may depend very much on what happened to them in the past. Thus if you shake a tree, it will subsequently grow thicker and sturdier. They ‘remember’ that they were shaken in the past. Wind is the natural shaker, and plants grown outdoors grow thicker than those in greenhouses, even in the same amount of light….

“Most trees, like most plants of all kinds, are also aware of the passing seasons: what time of year it is and — crucially — what is soon to follow. Deciduous trees lose their leaves as winter approaches (or, in the seasonal tropics, as the dry season approaches) and enter a state of dormancy. This is not a simple shutting down. Dormancy takes weeks of preparation. Before trees shed their leaves they withdraw much of the nutrient that’s within them, including the protein of the chlorophyll, leaving some of the other pigments behind to provide at least some of the glorious autumn colors; and they stop up the vessel ends that service the leaves with cork, to conserve water.

“How do the temperate trees of the north know that winter is approaching? How can they tell, when it is still high summer? There are many clues to season, including temperature and rainfall. But shifts in temperature and rain are capricious; they are not the kind of reliable signal to run your life by….

“The one invariable, at any particular latitude on any particular date, is the length of the day. So at least in high latitudes, where day length varies enormously from season to season, plants in general take this as their principal guide to action — while allowing themselves to be fine-tuned by other cues, including temperature. So temperate trees invariably produce their leaves and/or flowers in the spring, marching to the rigid drum of solar astronomy; but they adjust their exact date of blossoming to the local weather. This phenomenon — judging time of year by length of day — is called ‘photoperiodism.'”


This is the second of two posts with photographs focused on the shapes of desiccated Japanese Maple leaves, that I took in early January. The first post is Winter Shapes: Japanese Maple Leaves (1 of 2).

Thanks for taking a look!

Winter Shapes: Japanese Maple Leaves (1 of 2)

From A Garden of Marvels by Ruth Kassinger:

Deciduous trees… have evolved to deal with surviving cold months. In winter, the energy that a tree’s leaves are able to generate during short daylight hours is less than the energy required to maintain cell function in the leaves. In addition, the loss of water through transpiration exceeds the amount that the roots are able to absorb when groundwater is locked up in ice. So, in autumn, deciduous trees cut their losses. First, thanks to hormonal signals, they drain the sucrose from their leaves and send it to their roots and branches for storage. Then they seal off the leaves at their bases with a corky substance. Without water and nutrients, the leaves’ cells die. In the spring, the trees send stored sugar dissolved in water up the xylem to fuel the growth of new leaves and branches.”

From “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens in Three Centuries of American Poetry edited by Allen Mandelbaum and Robert D. Richardson:

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place….


January is a great month for hunting down those natural shapes of things that are most apparent only in the winter. For this post (and the next one) I scoured the trees for shreds of Japanese Maple leaves, those that still clung on and held an interesting form despite many days of rain, wind, and cold. Their tenaciousness is admirable — don’t you think?

Even though it was a cloudy day, there was enough sunlight breaking through so that some of the leaves — all but those in the last three images — got touched with a bit of backlighting, just enough so that they looked like the were glowing against the blue-gray skies.

Thanks for taking a look!

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