Shirasawa maple is a slow-growing tree, in Finland a smallish shrub, whose cultivar ‘Aureum’ is extremely popular in central European gardens. The reasons for its popularity include the beautiful habit, its slow growth, and the bright spring foliage, which remains undimmed through the summer. In addition, the leaves produce showy autumn colours. Both the flowers and the samara wings are red.
The species grows in Japan in the shrub understory. To take full advantage of the light penetrating the canopy, the leaves group themselves in thick layers on flat branches which curve attractively upwards and outwards, giving the shrubs the familiar “typically Japanese” habit of so many Far Eastern plants. Full sun can damage the foliage so in the garden it is best planted in partial shade under the tree canopy.
In Finland, Shirasawa maple has been considered non-hardy and there has not yet been much experience of it over the long term. The plants in the Alppiruusulaakso (Rhododendron Valley) at Mustila are still young, but have so far survived the winters well. They originate from seed from the central Japanese mountains, so it is to be hoped that they will prove hardier than plants of garden origin.