Three-flower maple, Acer triflorum

October 31, 2017

Every leaf speaks bliss to me

Fluttering from the autumn tree.

                -Emily Bronte

We bring thoughts of some good news from Korea. The Three-flower maple, Acer triflorum is an outstanding small tree, often less than 30-feet-tall, which most autumns will display foliage in hues of muted golden yellow, then changing to scintillating red or orange. Many have noted that autumn color seems tardy this year, so perhaps during November you will still have an opportunity to seek out one of these fine trees.

It was exactly one-hundred years ago that the famous and prolific plant explorer, Ernest Henry Wilson (1876-1930) was on another Asian expedition (his sixth) collecting rare plants and seeds. Except for his initial two collecting trips while employed for England’s famous Veitch Nursery, his later trips were sponsored by Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927), the founding director of Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum.

Stephen Spongberg in his fascinating Reunion of Trees revisits this era of plant discoveries from the forests of Korea. Quoting therein a letter dated October 22, 1917 to Sargent from Seoul, Wilson wrote “perhaps the best capture was Acer triflorum. This … has loose, papery, reddish-gray bark and wonderful autumn tints of yellow and orange.”

The common name, Three-flower maple comes from the inconspicuous, small, yellow, springtime flowers occurring in clusters of three. This woodland tree native from central Korea to the Chinese border and beyond is one of the trifoliate leaved maples. Each compound leaf is comprised of three 2-3-inch-long leaflets, having scattered pubescence on top and along the mid-vein beneath While the leaves might cause some to question whether it is a maple, the seeds occur as paired, winged samaras, common to most maples. Upon close observation, note their prominent fuzzy hairs (pubescence).

On your next visit to Mount Auburn look for our Three-flower maples on Halcyon Avenue and Cuphea Path.

a red maple leaf and a yellow maple leaf

that wind rifles and rain shines until they let go,

blazing their scripted nothingness on air…

                Emily Warn





About the Author: Jim Gorman

Visitor Services Assistant

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