April 2003
Plant of the Month
Tatarian Maple/Summer Splendor
(Acer tataricum)
zone: 4
by Tim Power

Summer Splendor Tatarian Maple
Minnesota has several outstanding native maples in its forests, many of which can be used effectively as landscape plants. All of the good landscape maples, however, are large plants. The smaller native maples, such as Acer pensylvanicum and Acer spicatum, generally require the filtered shade, deep soil, good drainage and wind protection of the forest where they are native. They are weak-branched, thin-barked and poorly adapted to the rigors of the typical urban or suburban landscape site.

Two exotic small maples that thrive in the Minnesota landscape are Amur maple (Acer ginnala or Acer tataricum ssp. Ginnala,) and Tatarian maple (Acer tataricum). Amur maple and Tatarian maple have many uses in the landscape, providing screening or accent and seasonal interest with their flowers, excellent fall color and winged fruits called samaras. They survive in most soils, as long as the soils are well-drained, and they transplant easily either bare-root or balled and burlapped. Tatarian maple survives better in slightly alkaline soils than does Amur maple. Both are amenable to container culture and grow at a relatively rapid rate.

Unfortunately, we have found that Amur maple is very susceptible to leafhopper damage in agricultural areas and is perhaps the most susceptible maple to Verticillium wilt. Because of these problems, we have dropped Amur maple in favor of its slightly larger cousin Tatarian maple. Tatarian maple is more tree-like than Amur maple and will top out at about 15 to 20 feet. Its leaves are entire and doubly serrate, as opposed to the three-lobed shape of Amur maple. Typical fall color for species Tatarian maple is yellow, but the cultivars of Tatarian maple are probably the result of hybridizing with Amur maple and thus have better orangy-red fall color.

We grow a Tatarian variety called Summer Splendor, which shows characteristics intermediate between the shrubby form of Amur maple and the shade tree form of sugar maple. Summer Splendor has crisp, green foliage and outstanding red samaras in late summer. Fall color is orange and consistent. We have sold this plant as far west as eastern Montana, and have received reports of success in their alkaline soils. We have seen Verticillium wilt in Summer Splendor, but no more frequently than in sugar maple or red maple. Leafhopper damage is similarly reduced from that in Amur maple.

The use of exotic landscape plants brings up the issue of invasiveness. Both Amur maple and Tatarian maple are Asian plants, not native to North America. They both seed freely, and the seed is borne by wind. They were recommended and sold for many years by government and private conservation organizations, but in recent years those organizations have stopped selling these plants because of their invasiveness. These maples will displace understory plants in wooded areas and reproduce in open areas, but they invade relatively slowly, since the seeds are windborne and not generally spread by animals. An effective way to manage the seedlings of these plants is to plant them only in areas that will be mowed regularly. If the seedlings are regularly removed or mown, these plants will not expand beyond their boundaries.

Tim Power,
Law’s Nursery, Inc.

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