The perfect Japanese maple?

By: Katie Price - 25/10/2011

The trees in the Woodland Garden provide shade for us to grow a range of woodland plants and bulbs, but they also add their own colour at this time of year. The Japanese maple, Acer palmatum 'Sangokaku', is one of the best.

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Acer palmatum ‘Sangokaku’, or the coral-barked maple, is a marvellous small tree for a woodland garden, with interest for every season. Here in the Woodland Garden, which surrounds the Temple of Aeolus at Kew, we have three specimens north of the Temple Mound. Right now they are awash with autumn colour – their small, deeply divided leaves range from butter yellow, through green and orange, to fiery red.


Acer palmatum ‘Sangokaku’ against a blue autumn sky

Autumn colour of Acer palmatum ‘Sangokaku’ (Image: Richard Wilford)


This year’s autumn colour is different from normal –  a largely uniform buttery yellow, with almost no red or deep orange. I guess this is an indicator of the abnormally warm, dry weather we had during early October.


Acer palmatum ‘Sangokaku’ in autumn colour

Acer palmatum ‘Sangokaku’, showing wonderful yellow hues (Image: Richard Wilford)


One of hundreds of named cultivars of the Japanese maple, the common name of "coral bark maple" celebrates the wonderful spring display. The young shoots and stems are bright coral-red, and before the leaves emerge the tree develops a pink halo. You can also see this bright red colouration on the petioles of the autumn leaves.


Acer palmatum ‘Sangokaku’ leaves

The leaves of Acer palmatum ‘Sangokaku’, showing their bright red petioles


The newly emerged leaves have a dainty pink flush, before becoming a vibrant lime green for the rest of the season, but it is in autumn that this wonderful tree steps into the limelight.


A tree of Acer palmatum ‘Sangokaku’ at Kew

Acer palmatum ‘Sangokaku’


What more can I say? It’s perfect.

- Katie -

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About us

Looking north towards the Davies Alpine House from the Rock Garden

Several people contribute to the Alpine and Rock Garden Team blog. Richard Wilford is the Collections Manager in the Hardy Display Section at Kew. His responsibilities include all the areas where alpines are grown at Kew Gardens. The three team leaders, Joanne Everson, Graham Walters and Katie Price, each have their own particular parts of the Gardens to look after. Between them, these four experts have over 55 years experience of growing alpines.

Alpines at Kew Gardens are not only grown to create colourful and informative displays, they also play an important role in the research Kew carries out around plant naming, classification, biodiversity and conservation.

Mountains are found on every continent and each range has its own unique alpine flora, but these plants are under threat from climate change. As temperatures rise, alpines are forced higher and will eventually have nowhere to go. The alpine collections at Kew are studied to help us all understand the mountain flora better and make informed decisions about protecting its future.

"Probably the most beautiful glasshouse in the world is the Davies Alpine House at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew", John Hoyland, Gardens Illustrated, April 2011

Richard Wilford has written a book on alpines, 'Alpines from Mountain to Garden', published by Kew Publishing. You can buy it in the Kew shops or from

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