Vine Maple Is a Bright-leaved Tree for Small Gardens

vine maple

Vine maple’s leaves turn red in fall, as seen in this photograph taken alongside Oregon’s Molalla River in October 2018.

Virtues: Vine maple (Acer circinatum) is a small deciduous tree that lends winter interest to the garden with its elegant branching. During the growing season its large foliage is a nice green until it takes on blazing colors in fall. This native of western North America is fairly adaptable and happy in shade.

Common name: Vine maple

Botanical name:Acercircinatum

Exposure: Sun or shade

Season: Year-round presence, winter architecture, bright fall foliage. The selection ‘Pacific Fire’ has red bark.

Foliage: The large leaves are light green or golden green from spring to earliest autumn, when they transition to orange or red. The cultivar ‘Sunglow’ offers peachy spring foliage that turns lime for summer. ‘Monroe’ has deeply cut leaves that add a feathery texture.

Habit: Vine maple grows as a multi stemmed tree that typically reaches no taller than 20 feet. Its branches can spread to a similar width. Growing it in shade will give the branches more of a spreading, vine-like habit, while more sun will keep vine maple more upright and compact. ‘Little Gem’, ‘Pacific Sprite’ and ‘Sunglow’ are dwarf varieties.

Origins: Moist to wet coastal forests from Alaska to northern California.

How to grow vine maple: This tree naturally grows in the shade of large conifers, so it will easily handle shade or part shade in the garden. However it can also grow in the sun, which will prompt its best fall foliage. An adaptable species, it is not picky about soil type and it can withstand dry spells once it is established. Best left unpruned to develop natural character. USDA Zones 5–8.

Image credit: Greg Shine, Bureau of Land Management, CC BY 2.0 via