A. tegmentosum ‘Joe Witt’ at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle
Header Photo by Mark Leichty; sidebar Photo courtesy of Richie Steffen and Great Plant Picks

Acer tegmentosum, or Manchurian snakebark maple, is a deciduous tree native to mountainous regions of Manchuria, Eastern Russia and Korea. Mature specimens are typically vase-shaped, reaching a mature height of 20-30 feet. The distinctive characteristic which sets them apart from other maples is their beautifully striated bark. Its smooth, bright- green bark is lavishly adorned with blue-green to white stripes of varying widths forming a pattern reminiscent of a snake’s skin. There are other maples commonly called snakebark maples. The genus Acer is divided into 16 sections, and the snakebarks make up the section Macrantha. There are several other species in this section which are notable. The lone North American native snakebark maple is Acer pensylvanicum.Acer davidii, or Father David’s maple is native to China, while Acer capillipes is native to Japan. These four species are somewhat uncommonly available to American gardeners for use in the landscape. There is a dozen or so more species seldom seen in cultivation except in botanical gardens. A handful of crosses and cultivars have also been developed. The University of British Columbia Botanical Garden in Vancouver has an impressive collection containing many of the possible species and cultivars of Macrantha maples. Oregon State University in Corvallis, near my hometown of Albany also has a nice collection of snakebark maples on campus.

The usefulness and beauty of these trees in the landscape can’t be overstated. Their bark is of year-round interest, and any passer-by cannot help but be enamored by it. The striping is caused by waxes that are produced in the bark and accumulate in fissures that expand as the tree grows, creating the striped pattern. They also have the added benefit of reasonably nice fall leaf colors, ranging from yellow to crimson-red.

A. tegmentosum ‘Joe Witt’ is a selection from seedlings at the University of Washington’s Washington Park Arboretum and was named by plantsman Dan Hinkley for former arboretum curator Joseph A. Witt. Witt also served as professor of Urban Horticulture at the UW Center for Urban Horticulture from 1980 until his death in 1984.
A. tegmentosum and other snakebark maples are best grown in light shade, and the trunk especially should be protected from exposure to full summer sun, as it can cause cracking in the bark, leading to disease. These trees require little pruning to maintain their vase-shape, and like occasional water during dry summers. They are hardy in USDA Zones 4-8.

 

Why grow Acer tegmentosum?

  • Its beautiful striated bark is a showstopper in the landscape.
  • Its mature size of 20-30 feet makes it manageable in the landscape.
  • It requires little or no pruning to maintain its vase shape.
  • Its uncommon nature adds value at all levels of nursery sales.

 

Mark Leichty is the Director of Business Development at Little Prince of Oregon Nursery near Portland. He is a certified plant geek who enjoys visiting beautiful gardens and garden centers searching for rare and unique plants to satisfy his plant lust. mark@littleprinceoforegon.com