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The cold has set in. Change is beginning to be noticed in some plants which take on different hues and tones during the colder months. Most noticeable is the change in some conifers which take on bronzy tints. Other plants also get tinged leaves often with richer coloring. Some bark of trees even becomes more distinct in coloring. One tree which is a standout (literally) is the Coral Bark Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku‘). The already coral-red coloring of the bark deepens in tone and stands out from all other trees.

This Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' also known as the Coral Bark Maple is at Government House.

This Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' also known as the Coral Bark Maple is at Government House.


Most people know the Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) which is almost over used in many places. It was first described by Carl Peter Thunberg, he brought drawing of the tree back from Japan where he was stationed during the period of 1775-76.  It was Thunberg who named the small tree using ‘palmatum’ to describe the small leaves as ‘hand-like’.
The small baby hand-shaped leaves of Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku'

The small baby hand-shaped leaves of Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku'


The ‘hand-like description is very similar to the Japanese name for Maple leaves ‘kaede’.   Kaede refers to the  leaves resembling small (baby) hands or (kaeru)frog +(de) hands. Momiji(momizu)  is also used as meaning  Maples but more correctlyrefers to the leaves turning red in autumn as Maples usually do. The first live Acer palmatum arrived in England in 1820 and since that time the trees have remained popular.

The Coral Bark Maple goes through an incredible range of color changes beginning in spring with buttery yellow tones which have a lively effect.
The Coral Bark Maple goes through an incredible range of color changes beginning in spring with buttery yellow tones which have a lively effect.

Japanese Maples where a highly developed plant by the time they were brought to Europe. In Japan the first place these trees were known to be written about was in ‘Kadan Chikinsho’ (by San Nojo Hanado), a 6 volume work on the ornamental trees and shrubs of Japan published in 1685. Later there was revisions to the  book and a complete volume was given over to Acer palmatum and its known forms. Breeding and specialization of plants really took of during the ‘Edo period (1603-1867) in  Japan, at that time there were even cults devoted to certain plants. In 1770 there were 36 named varieties and by 1882 the list had grown to include about 250 varieties. It is not known how old Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaki’ is.  Some of old varieties have been lost during the 2nd World War as the trees were cut down and used as fuel.  Since the 1960s there has been a resurgence of interest in the trees and hundreds of new varieties have been collected from Japan and around the world where these trees are collected and propagated.

Summer sees Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' transforming from golden to mid green.

Summer sees Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' transforming from golden to mid green.


There is some confusion with the naming of the Coral Bark Maple: its correct name is Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku‘.  In the past it been listed as  ‘Senkaki’ which is wrong, there is no known plant by that name. Now there is a problem in getting a true ‘Sango Kaki’ as some trees which are sold with this name are likely to be selected seedlings of the same parent. All named Japanese Maples are propagated by cuttings which are then grafted onto a more vigorous understock. This is a slow and expensive process, therefore you need to select your plant from a reputable grower and be suspicious of unusually cheap plant offerings. the best time to buy a plant is in the fall when you can inspect the bark coloring and select the deepest coloring.
The red coloring of Acer palmatun 'Sango Kaku' intensifies in the cold winter weather.

The red coloring of Acer palmatun 'Sango Kaku'' intensifies in the cold winter weather.


Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaki’ like all Japanese Maple is a fairly easy plant to grow. It  likes fertile, slightly acid well-drained soil. They like to be kept evenly watered at all times, changes in watering can damage the plant. They like full sun here in the north-west but need shade in areas with more intense light. All Japanese Maples should be protected from drying winds regardless if they be in the summer or winter, their leaves and bark are thin and damaged easily. Best siting for this plant will take advantage of the tree coloring throughout the year, colors in the background should be chosen to make the tree stand out more.  These trees like  As mentioned selection of the plant takes some care, at that time make sure the roots are in good condition. The roots are fine and these trees are best bought in a container.
As the branches get older the coral coloring of Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' blends in with older bark.

As the branches get older the coral coloring of Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' blends in with older bark.


All Acer palmatum make excellent container subjects, I have several which are growing in large pots for many years. The Coral Bark Maple should be used as a specimen as it has wonderful coloring throughout the year. These trees also look wonderful in dark borders or with other plants which will highlight the red bark of this plant.  This plant grows to about 4.5-6 m. (15-20 ft). It has a narrower vase shape and has a spread of maybe 1/3 less than height or 2.5-5 m.(10-15 ft.). It has a hardiness rating of zones 6 though 9 or -20 c.(-10 f.).
Autumn brings the return of the buttery yellow and ambers often edged with crimson to the Coral Bark Maple.

Autumn brings the return of the buttery yellow and amber often edged with crimson to the Coral Bark Maple.


Crimson tidings lead us to:

Rainyside speaks to us: http://www.rainyside.com/features/plant_gallery/shrubs/AcerSango-kaku.html

Wiki on Acer palmatum: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acer_palmatum

‘Sango-Kaku’ vs other similar and incorrectly named trees: http://www.ubcbotanicalgarden.org/forums/showthread.php?t=394

……Hope to see you soon again here….

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Back to school, those are dreaded words for some, a relief for others and the beginning of a new chapter in life for many more. I must admit I did not like grade school. It was not until later when I had a break from the grind of it, had more perspective and experience in life that I enjoyed it more. Now I think about i more fondly look back at my time in school especially the time I was in Hort. school learning so many new things which I use all the time now. Learning the plants back then was more of a challenge, now it is adverture which takes me across the world and back in time. I first saw Nandina domestica (Heavenly Bamboo or Sacred Bamboo) at Van Duesen Gardens and over the years have always loved it’s simple elegant beauty.

Heavenly Bamboo is a triple treat with wonderful foliage, flowers and bright red berries which appear in the fall.

Heavenly Bamboo is a triple treat with wonderful foliage, flowers and bright red berries which appear in the fall.

Nandina domestica is a plant which comes to us from Asia, there it is found in central Northern India, China and Japan. In Japan it is known as Nantzen (meaning southern sky) is derived from the chinese name(southern heaven)and our latin name is from it.  Nandina is strongly connected with the new year in both China and Japan, in China it is associated with the kitchen god Zhao Jun(Zhen) who is the most important domestic god and protects the hearth and family.

The light delicate foliage and compact=

The light delicate foliage and compact habit makes Heavenly Bamboo very popular here.

In Japan it is especially popular and is often seen at the entrances of houses and is  also used during the holiday season of late December and January. Here it seen in traditional Kadumatsu decorations which are placed in pairs at the front door of  the home. It is also in Japan where Carl Peter Thunberg(1743-1828) first documented Nandina domestica while he was there in 1775-76. His name is one of the most important associated with botanical plants in Japan and he named many of the best known ones of today.

A good crop of berries is seen with this planting of Nandina domestica at U.B.C. Botanical Gardens in Vancouver.

A good crop of berries is seen with this planting of Nandina domestica at U.B.C. Botanical Gardens in Vancouver.

Heavenly Bamboo was introduced to the gardening public in 1804. Also back in Japan at that time there were new forms being discovered and it was becoming popular there as a bonsai subject.Some of the new forms had narrower leaves and lent themselves to Bonsai. By the late 1800s’ nearly 200 cultivars had been named and catalogued there. Sadly many of these forms have been lost although recently many new color forms have been selected by growers in Europe and North America.

Nandina domestica is often mass planted or used as informal hedgeing here.

Nandina domestica is often mass planted or used as informal hedging here.

Here we have come to love Heavenly Bamboo for its versatility, beauty and color throughout the year. It tolerates any type of soil as long as it is well-drained. It is not fussy about light and can take the full sun to full shade although it is best with some protection from harsh midday sun in the summer especially in drier and more southern areas that here. Nandina domestica is tolerant of fairly dry areas as long as it is sheltered from drying winds like most other evergreens. This plant grows by producing suckers from the base, this over time will produce a dense clump. Pruning can be done to remove damaged parts and to thin it out if it gets overgrown.

The leaves are very large and tri-pinnate which gives 'Heavenly Bamboo' its common name.

The leaves are very large and tri-pinnate which gives 'Heavenly Bamboo' its common name.

There are many new forms of Nandina domestica which have recently appeared on the market. They range from the dwarfs  such as Nandina domestica ‘Nana Purpurea’ which grows 60cm(2 ft) which I think are best in containers as they do not have the elegant form as the full-sized ones. Nandina domestica ‘Plum Passion’ has great plum tinted blue-green foliage and grows 2m(6.5ft) by 90cm(3 ft) wide which is the normal size for Nandinas. There are also exciting golden-leaved  and yellow and white-fruited varieties which can be found so be on the lookout for more interesting varieties.

This dwarf Nandina would be best suited in a nice container.

This dwarf Nandina would be best suited in a nice container.

Nandinas are fairly hardy growing in zones 6 though 10 or-10c.(14f.) with little damage as long as they are in a spot shelter from drying winds. If they do lose their leaves in a hard winter they often come back quickly with new stems coming up from the base, the old ones can be removed. In areas where these plants have become a pest it is important to remove the spent flowers so they do not set seed. Speaking of seed, this is a common way to increase your crop of plants, germination is best if sown fresh with all pulp removed from the berries. The other method of propagation is by semi-ripe cuttings in mid spring.

This Nandina domestica is well palced in a sheltered location with some sun.

This Nandina domestica is well palced in a sheltered location with some sun.

Nandina domestica can be used in a variety of ways, as an informal hedge, mass planted, as an accent or for seasonal color. You will see it used in many public gardens as well as better institutional setting as it is a much more manageable substitute for true Bamboos.It fit well in asian, Japanese, understory or dappled and modern gardens very well. The graceful feeling of the plant is much appreciated by gardeners everywhere.

Searching for Heavenly Bamboo on earth:

The interesting forms grown in Japan: http://homepage3.nifty.com/plantsandjapan/page105.html

Carl Peter Thunberg: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Peter_Thunberg

Kadumatsu: http://www.humanflowerproject.com/index.php/weblog/comments/kadomatsu_welcoming_japans_new_year/

Propagation by seed: http://www.ubcbotanicalgarden.org/forums/showthread.php?t=16900

Paghat on Nandina: http://www.paghat.com/nandina2.html

Hope to see you soon…..here again.

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