October 22, 2013 | Panayoti Kelaidis, Senior Curator & Director of Outreach

Scott and maple   Scott Skogerboe and mystery maple...

Everyone should have a hero. Scott Skogerboe has always been one of mine: Head of propagation at Fort Collins Nursery Wholesale, he and his boss, Gary Epstein have been the force behind most of the woody plant introductions of Plant Select. Here he is standing in front of...well...you shall have to wait and see (I have my crafty ways of making you read all the way to the bottom of my blog posting!)....

Amur maple at box store   Amur maple at Box Store

This is NOT the same maple as the one with Scott above--this is an Amur Maple (Acer ginnala) I photographed today (October 20) on West Colfax in front of a Box Store which I am NOT endorsing (although I confess I did by 50 of awesome plants while I was there...). As the name suggests, Amur maples originate in the Amur river region of East Asia, the river that separates Manchuria from Siberia. No wonder the tree is so cold hardy! But that area is also Maritime--and the soils are podzoils: generally acid, more like the soils of our upper Midwest and New England. So of course, Amur maples in Denver are frequently chlorotic, and usually not recommended by horticulturists "in the know". No one bothered to tell the landscape architects, who filled the vast parking lot of this box store with them--and each and every one of them are blazing in DIFFERENT colors, and looking mighty healthy!

Row of Amurs  A whole ROW of frickin' amurs

Here you can see bits and pieces of a half dozen Amur maples in blazing color---looked like a regular conflagration! Each was robust, and each a very different shade of flaming red and orange (and some yellow and one or two green--this picture doesn't show them quite right--I'll show some closeups to better demonstrate a wonderful quality that is being increasingly denied people: namely, the wonderful biodiversity and variability that comes with seed grown plants.

Yellow Amur  Yellow-orange Amur

Although most of these maples were an unalloyed scarlet-vermilion, one was more orange-yellow in tint...

Green Amur   Green leafed Amur

Right alongside all the red ones, one had barely begun to turn and was still mostly green

Red Amur   Bright vermilion Amur Maple

But of the several dozen Amur maples around the parking lot, most were this flagrant, bracing, wonderful red color that we all love so much in the species. I have seen dozens of Amur maples all around Denver looking this good--there are some massive ones near Denver Botanic Gardens (and I have a pretty awesome specimen in my own garden too--hee hee)...but for every stunning Amur maple, there are usually a few gnarly, miserable things that look awful year around and hardly color up in fall. I have a hunch some of these are simply inferior plants, and others are probably growing in particularly bad sites with more alkaline soils, perhaps, or other environmental problems...Here, you should generate a drum roll and have the summon the cavalry with trumpets! Woo hooo!

Acer tataricum   Acer tataricum at Fort Collins Nursery Wholesale

Last Friday, while visiting Scott at Fort Collins Nursery Wholesale, I espied a furiously red small tree in the distance--the same one pictured at the beginning of this posting with Scott standing in front. This is a superb, red-fall coloring Tatarian Maple--a sib to the Plant Select Introduction, Acer tataricum Hot WingsTM. I have observed around town that Hot Wings Maple has been quite reliable about turning a wonderful reddish purple color in most sites. And since it is a selection of Acer tataricum, it will thrive in far more alkaline pedocal soils ("Tatarian" refers to "Tatary"--the archaic term used for "Turkestan", the designation for the portions of Czarist Russia in Central Asia--namely contemporary Kazakhstan, Kirghistan, Uzbekistan and the smaller neighboring "stans" that are now mostly independent states, but formerly parts of Russia and the Soviet Union. Mike Bone and I found Acer tataricum several times in Kazakhstan--many of them with the bright red samaras much like the Plant Select clone...

And here's the rub--you can go to almost any nursery in Colorado (in fact around the United States, Canada and Europe as well) and find Hot Wings in several convenient sizes--which you can purchase and plant in your garden and get not only spectacular fall color, but a shapely small tree the rest of the year which has brilliant red fruits for much of the summer--which look as bright and dazzling as flowers for an extended period: it is apt to thrive for you on acid or alkaline soils, and once established in Colorado thrives with almost no supplemental irrigation: what's not to love?

One of the great ironies of Colorado horticulture is that the ultimate seedsman (Scott Skogerboe) has also developed a number of clonal plants that will one day greatly outnumber the millions of seedlings he has grown in streetscapes and gardens around the world. Such are the ironies of our crazy modern world.

A piece of me wishes we could have developed a seed strain of red-winged maples so we could enjoy the wonderful biodiversity that thrilled me earlier today at Home Depot as I wandered through the Amur maples (imagining what they must look like in their native habitat right now, with the last few Siberian Tigers slinking through them nearby)--wait! What was that orange flash I caught out of the corner of my eye!? For a brief second I felt like Derzu Uzala (you must rent this dazzling Kurosawa classic if you've not seen it yet) and a moist Siberian breeze caressed my cheek.



Amur Maples in Colorado

Thank you for this informative and entertaining article on my favorite, the Amur Maple.  I am new to this USDA zone and you have helped greatly in my decision making regarding choice of hybrid and soil amendment.  Happy Spring!  :)

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