paperbark maple, Acer griseum

Scientific Name

Acer is Latin for “sharp” and may also be from the Celtic ac, which means “hard” in reference to the wood; griseum means “gray” which refers to the underside of the leaf.

Common Name

Paperbark maple is named for its paper-like, peeling bark. Other names include Chinese paperbark maple.


Paperbark maple is native to central China. Trees grow in moist, sheltered sites. It was introduced into cultivation by Veitch in 1901.


Not native to Kentucky.


Growth Habit and Form

Paperbark maple is a small, deciduous tree with a neat, compact shape. Trees typically grow 20 to 30 feet in height with a spread equal to height. The trunk is short and the canopy oval or rounded.


The blunt, toothed leaves are opposite and trifoliate (comprised of three leaflets). Leaflets are dark green above with paler hairy undersides. Paperbark maple displays excellent fall color. Leaves turn an array of bright red and orange colors in the fall.


Flowers are green, small and inconspicuous; they bloom in spring.


Fruit is a pair of winged seeds called samaras. Each samara is less than 2 in. long. The fruits ripen in the fall and are scattered by wind.


The bark is brown to reddish brown and peels away to reveal new rich, cinnamon colored bark. Exquisite bark character develops early as second year wood usually exfoliates. The bark of this tree is one of the most decorative barks of any maple tree.

Wild and Cultivated Varieties

Unlike many other species of maple, the paperbark maple has no wild or cultivated varieties.


Landscape Use

Paperbark maple is one of the most beautiful and recognizable of all the maples. It is an outstanding ornamental tree. Trees make a wonderful specimen.

Hardiness Zone

Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 7.

Growth Rate

Growth rate is slow, 6 to 12 inches per year over a 10 to 15 year period.

Cultivation and Propagation Information

Trees do best in moist, well-drained soils, both acid and alkaline. Trees perform well in clay soils. Paperbark maple grows best in full sun although tolerates partial shade. Balled and burlapped and container grown trees can be transplanted in spring. Paperbark maple may be propagated by seed, but the rate of seed viability is usually very low.

Diseases and Insects

None serious

Wildlife Considerations

Maple trees provide homes, shelter and food for wildlife.

Maintenance Practices

Minimal attention given appropriate cultural conditions.


Paperbark tree is a native of China but has become an ornamental favorite in North America and Europe.

Acer griseum

(Paperbark Maple)

Acer griseum (paperbark maple) is a small, slow growing, deciduous tree, which is native to central China. It will grow best in a sheltered location, ideally in a moist but well drained soil, and makes a perfect specimen in a small garden.

In late spring, the paperbark maple awakens from its winter slumber. The young copper foliage begins to unfurl with the clusters of tiny yellow green flowers. The foliage will turn to a mid-green and is trifoliate with each leaflet deeply toothed.

In the autumn, the leaves will turn spectacular shades of orange and red. For the best colour, it needs to be grown in full sun. The flowers will also have developed into clusters of paired samara, typical of many Acer species.

There are few trees which can rival its outstanding smooth cinnamon coloured bark which peels gently in thin papery layers adding winter interest to this plants list of attributes.

The features of Acer griseum make it an astonishing plant and a firm favourite at Deepdale. If only it would grow a bit faster!

” Back to the Tree Fact File

Common Name

“Paperbark Maple”


5m high x 3m wide after 25 years


Will grow on an alkaline and chalk soil but will establish best in a sheltered free-draining location.


Ideal for gardens and ornamental planting.


Dark green during the summer, developing into splendid reds and fiery crimson in autumn.


Stunning bark which creates peels of cinnamon toast and cream swirl.

The Paperbark Maple, first introduced to England legendary plant hunter Ernst Wilson, is renowned for the elegance of its peeling bark. It is during the hours of the autumn sunrise its real beauty shines. With its leaves in spectacular shades of red and translucent bark ignited by the morning sun, this scorching tree can appear to be ablaze. Unlike the majority of maples, it does not have a defined leader and breaks low down, further enhancing the image of ?ames.
As the tree matures, continue to lift the canopy by removing the lower branches, exposing the magnificent bark.
With fertile seeds being so low, the Paperbark Maple is a true advert for trees that need our assistance. Hillier continues to pioneer with the production of this fantastic tree in our British-grown field nursery.

All-season trees: Paperbark maple

Many plants have characteristics that change during all four seasons, bringing in new seasons with anticipation of changes to come. All-season trees provide interest to your landscape with changing leaf colors, flowers, fruit or interesting bark throughout all four seasons. As the cooler weather settles into Michigan and vibrant leaves steal the show, you may want to think beyond the fall colors and investigate trees that add to the landscape not only in fall, but throughout the rest of the year.

Paperbark maple, Acer griseum, is a true showstopper, being one of those trees that is spectacular in the landscape anytime of the year. Paperbark maple is a member of the Sapindaceae family, which was formed from the genera from two former families, Aceraceae (maple) and Hippocastanaceae (horse chestnuts and buckeyes). Paperbark maple was formally in the Aceraceae family, which had about 110 species. Trees from this family are found across the North Temperate Zone from North America to Japan. Maple trees are an important component of the deciduous forests of North America, Europe and Asia.

Paperbark maples are native to central China. Ernest Henry “Chinese” Wilson (1876 – 1930) brought the tree from China to England in 1899. It was soon introduced to the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. Wilson was an avid plant collector and explorer, introducing about 2,000 Asian plant species to the West.

The paperbark maple grows in zones 4-8, which makes it a perfect tree for Michigan. It likes average to slightly acidic, medium moist to well-drained soil. These easy-to-grow trees tolerate clay soil and will grow in full sun to part shade. In its native habitat, it grows in the understory of forests. Paperbark maples have few problems and require little pruning, but do not tolerate drought.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. View larger image.

The paperbark maple is a small, deciduous oval tree with slender branches. It can be a single or multiple trunked tree. It is especially noted for its exfoliating orange to copper bark and showy orange fall color. The bark on the trunk and limbs peels and curls, but remains on the trunk and is a beautiful contrast to the rose-brown inner bark.

The bark on the trunk and limbs of paperbark maple peels and curls. Photo by S. Rae (CC BY 2.0).

The leaves are a compound trifoliate with coarsely toothed leaflets. They are green on front, but a frosty blue to gray-green on the underside. The species name griseum means gray and refers to the gray undersides of the leaves. The flowers are insignificant, but do give way to double-winged samaras, also known as helicopters.

Paperbark maples were once very pricey trees, but are becoming more widely available. There are also new cultivars and varieties being developed that show great promise for the home landscape.

Acer griseum: Paperbark Maple1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson2


Perhaps the most beautiful maple, paperbark maple has trifoliate leaves and wonderfully orange to bronze, peeling, papery bark which provides year round interest. The bark begins peeling on the sculptured trunk and on 2-or 3-year-old branches. It may be cinnamon brown or orange but is usually a dark reddish-brown, looking particularly striking in the snow. Even small branches display exfoliating bark making this a true specimen tree, even at a young age. Most specimens are seen with multiple trunks which branch close to the ground, but proper training when young can create a single trunk. Paperbark maple has vibrant, scarlet, autumn foliage.

Figure 1.

Middle-aged Acer griseum: Paperbark Maple

General Information

Scientific name: Acer griseum Pronunciation: AY-ser GRISS-ee-um Common name(s): Paperbark maple Family: Aceraceae USDA hardiness zones: 4A through 7B (Fig. 2) Origin: not native to North America Invasive potential: little invasive potential Uses: highway median; container or planter; specimen; deck or patio; Bonsai Availability: not native to North America Figure 2.



Height: 15 to 25 feet Spread: 15 to 25 feet Crown uniformity: irregular Crown shape: vase, oval, upright/erect Crown density: open Growth rate: slow Texture: fine Leaf arrangement: opposite/subopposite (Fig. 3) Leaf type: trifoliate, odd-pinnately compound Leaf margin: serrate Leaf shape: elliptic (oval), ovate Leaf venation: pinnate Leaf type and persistence: deciduous Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches, 4 to 8 inches Leaf color: green Fall color: red Fall characteristic: showy Figure 3.



Flower color: green Flower characteristics: not showy


Fruit shape: elongated, oval Fruit length: 1 to 3 inches Fruit covering: dry or hard Fruit color: brown Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches don’t droop; very showy; typically multi-trunked; thorns Pruning requirement: little required Breakage: resistant Current year twig color: brown Current year twig thickness: thin, medium Wood specific gravity: unknown


Light requirement: full sun, partial sun or partial shade, shade tolerant Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; acidic; slightly alkaline; well-drained Drought tolerance: moderate Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate


Roots: not a problem Winter interest: yes Outstanding tree: yes Ozone sensitivity: unknown Verticillium wilt susceptibility: susceptible Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases

Use and Management

The multi-stemmed habit, unusual leaves, and wonderful bark makes this a prime candidate for specimen planting in any commercial, institutional, or residential landscape. If you can find it, plant it by a patio or other prime location and light it from below for nighttime enjoyment.

The tree is hardy, grows very slowly to 25 or 30 feet tall, but, unfortunately, is difficult and expensive to propagate. It does not tolerate extended drought or other environmental stresses in the south or in poor soil (moderate drought-tolerance in sandy loam) but will grow in sun or shade. Leaves will scorch during dry summers unless provided with some irrigation. Probably best in partial shade if planted in the south. The beauty of this tree makes up for the extra effort required to grow it. If this plant could be easily propagated, it would be widely used because the price of the plant would drop to levels acceptable to most people.

Pests and Diseases

Probably has similar pest and disease problems as other maples.


This document is ENH-176, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at

Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; and Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county’s UF/IFAS Extension office.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.

Product Details

Acer griseum, known as the Paperbark Maple, is a stunning small tree which is the perfect addition for patient gardeners and those who wish to wow their neighbours with their interesting tree planting selections.

This pretty tree was introduced by the infamous plant hunter Ernest “Chinese” Wilson in 1901, he is renowned for sourcing intriguing specimens from China and successfully bringing them back to grace the shores of the UK.

As the name suggests, the Paperbark Maple has magnificent bark colour, which peels on a yearly basis to display cinnamon coloured under-bark. Thankfully even as a young tree, this specimen does not disappoint, producing the bark displays from an early age. The leaves are dark green, small and trifoliate, producing some good hints of red in the autumn time.

A small to medium sized tree at maturity, this specimen does best in sun or partial shade and prefers a sheltered aspect. It is not unusual for the growing tips to become a little frosted after the winter and this should not be a factor to cause concern, simply prune out as required. This tree is fairly slow growing and performs best in moist, well drained soils but it does not tolerate drought and autumn colour can become limited by nutrient rich, wet soils.

Acer griseum is a great choice for arboretums and collections, and whilst not to be overlooked for planting in gardens, it is best enjoyed by the patient amongst us who are happy to watch it slowly flourish in the years to come.

Mature height: 3-7m

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