Marjorie and I were touring the Spring Grove Cemetery on a hot, dry August afternoon a few years ago, when we happened to spot a spectacular crabapple tree in full bloom. At least it looked like a crabapple. Covered with bright fire-engine red flowers, it stood in the middle of a field looking fresh as a daisy in the midst of a three-month drought. It was medium-sized, about fifteen feet tall and wide with multiple trunks in a classic vase-shaped “clump form”.
On closer inspection it clearly wasn’t a crabapple, or any kind of fruit tree for that matter. It had small, shiny maple-shaped leaves, and what had looked like showy red blooms turned out to be tiny winged maple seeds hanging in heavy clusters all over it.
Turns out it was an Amur maple (acer ginnala), a large shrub or small tree native to northeast Asia. It is named for the Amur River, the tenth-longest river in the world, the river that forms part of the border between Russia and China.
Amur maple is an excellent, low-growing tree that can be grown as a multi-stemmed clump or can be trained into a single trunk. It grows 20 to 30 feet tall and has a rounded, finely branched growth habit that creates dense shade. Amur maple can grow rapidly when it is young if it receives water and fertilizer, but it is perfect for planting close to power lines since it slows down and remains small at maturity. It is very drought-tolerant, which is why the one we saw at Spring Grove was such a standout in the summer heat.
We were so impressed with it that we planted a small grove of Amur Maples between our greenhouse and the road, with the idea of screening our nursery yard from the neighborhood. The trees grew rapidly and soon formed a continuous canopy that gave us shade, privacy and windbreak. Left alone, Amur maples form large bushy shrubs, so I had to prune the lower limbs and suckers off in order to walk or mow under them. Eventually we placed picnic tables under the trees. Those of you who attended our ritual Mother’s Day party at GoodSeed Farm might remember sitting under them enjoying the concession food. At that time of year they bloom heavily, giving off a powerful perfume similar to old-fashioned lilacs. In fall the leaves turn brilliant orange-red.
Every tree has an ideal spot and a purpose; a solution to a problem. We’ve planted Amur maples for fast-growing shade over a water feature, for privacy screening along property lines, and in locations where taller maples would interfere with overhead wires. Over the years they have rewarded us with lovely fragrance in spring, vivid red seed heads in summer, and terrific fall color. They are tough and adaptable in poor soils and drought. They are a great example of how nature offers us just the right tree for every situation, if we have an open mind.
Steve Boehme and his wife Marjorie own GoodSeed Nursery & Landscape, located at 9736 Tri-County Highway, near Winchester, Ohio. More information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call (937) 587-7021.