Trident Maple (Acer Buergerianum): Bark, leaves, Size, Lifespan – Identification Guide

The Trident Maple (Acer buergerianum), also known as the Three-toothed Maple or the Chinese Maple, is a species of maple tree native to eastern China, Korea, and Japan. In China, it is found in provinces including Shandong, Gansu, Guangdong, and Sichuan. This tree belongs to the soapberry family (Sapindaceae) and is commonly used for Bonsai.

The Trident Maple is adaptable to a range of conditions, but it prefers full sun to part shade and well-drained, acidic to neutral soil. It is tolerant of salt, air pollution, wind, and drought. It is, however, less hardy than a Japanese maple and highly susceptible to storm damage. It is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9.

Physical Appearance

Size and Growth Habit

It grows to a height of 25-35 feet and a width of 15-25 feet, with a moderate growth rate. It has a rounded, spreading form and can be trained to a single trunk or allowed to develop multiple stems.

Leaves

The leaves are glossy dark green above and paler underneath, with a triangular, three-lobed shape that gives the tree its name. They are relatively small, ranging from 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches wide. In autumn, the leaves turn rich yellow to red, adding to the tree’s ornamental value.

Bark

The bark of a trident maple is a grayish-brown that flakes in strips as the tree matures, revealing an orange-brown inner bark.

Flowers and Fruit

It produces small, yellow-green flowers in spring, followed by winged samaras that mature in fall. The samaras are about 2 cm long with wings that are forward-pointing and often overlapping.

Cultivars of Trident Maples

  • Acer buergerianum ‘Akebono’ (Coral Dawn Trident Maple): This has foliage which emerges a reddish-orange before maturing to a glossy green in summer. Fall brings a fiery display of orange and red leaves.
  • Acer buergerianum ‘Goshiki Kaede’ (Five-Color Trident Maple): This has leaves with a marbled pattern of green, yellow, and sometimes even pink or red hues. The fall color display is a mix of orange, red, and purple.
  • Acer buergerianum ‘Mino Yatsubusa’ (Dwarf Trident Maple): This dwarf cultivar features smaller, more compact leaves with a classic trident shape.
  • Acer buergerianum ‘Mitsubato Kaede’ (Cork-Bark Trident Maple): This cultivar stands out with its stunning cork-like bark that develops at a young age. The leaves are a rich green in summer and turn golden yellow in fall.
  • Acer buergerianum ‘Miyasama Yatsubusa’ (Variegated Trident Maple): This beautiful cultivar has variegated foliage with creamy white margins alongside the classic green color. The fall display features a blend of yellow, orange, and red.
  • Acer buergerianum ‘Streetwise’ (Streetwise Trident Maple): It features red-purple new foliage that matures to green in summer and turns a beautiful burgundy-red in fall. It also has the desirable characteristic of exfoliating bark at a younger age compared to other Trident Maples.

Growing Conditions

  • Sunlight: Prefer full sun but can tolerate some shade.
  • Soil: They thrive in well-drained, acidic soil but are adaptable to a wider range of soil types and moisture levels.
  • Hardiness: They are tolerant of wind, salt, drought, air pollution, and even some soil compaction, making them a versatile choice for many landscapes.

Care and Maintenance

  • Watering: They are moderately drought tolerant but benefit from regular watering, especially during hot and dry periods.
  • Pruning: Regular pruning is essential for maintaining the desired shape and size of the tree, particularly for bonsai specimens. However, avoid pruning during the hottest part of summer.
  • Pests and Diseases: They are generally resistant to pests and diseases, but they can be susceptible to verticillium wilt, a fungal disease that can damage the tree’s vascular system.

Propagation

It can be propagated through various methods, including root stem cuttings and seed germination. Seeds require cold stratification and can be planted in spring after being stratified for three months.

Uses

  • Commonly used for Bonsai due to its small leaves, tolerance for pruning, adaptability and attractive form.
  • This tree can be used as a specimen planting in smaller gardens or parks due to its manageable size and attractive foliage.
  • While less common, trident maples can also be used as street trees, particularly when trained to have a single leader.
  • It is usually planted as a potted nursery specimen or balled-and-burlapped plant in the spring or fall.

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