US National Arboretum


Three-Flower Maple (Acer triflorum) - Three Times a Charmer

Noted plant explorer Ernest H. Wilson discovered the three-flower maple during his trip to the Korean peninsula in October 1917. In his field notes (archived at the Arnold Arboretum in Massachusetts), Wilson described this tree as “perhaps the best capture” of this trip, his third and last for Arnold. He urged Charles Sprague Sargent, founder and first director of the Arnold Arboretum, that all seed sent back be planted immediately. While the oldest and largest three-flower maple specimen is likely still at the Arnold Arboretum—the site of its introduction—a fine specimen can be found here at the National Arboretum at the top of China Valley in the Asian Collections. [See image at right].


Acer triflorum (USDA Hardiness Zone 5) is interesting all year round, but in three seasons it truly shines. First, the bright velvety new leaves emerge from brownish-black buds late enough in spring to be eagerly anticipated. Following soon after, flowers appear in three-flowered clusters, hence its botanic and common names. All summer long, the rich green foliage casts welcome shade. [See image at right].


In late autumn, the leaves color spectacularly, ranging from golden yellow to pumpkin orange bordering on red, rivaling even the famous sugar maple (Acer saccharum) for brilliance in the eastern United States landscape. [See image at middle right].


In winter, the tree displays exfoliating bark in shades of cream, beige, pearly gray, or brown with orange undertones, and a waxy sheen especially on younger stems and trunks. [See image at lower right].


The samara, or winged fruits, persist well into late fall/early winter and are rather interesting upon close inspection (unless the squirrels discover them!). At twig tips the dark buds develop, promising to burst bright green again in spring.


The three-flower maple has almost limitless landscape use. This ornamental tree (eventually reaching 20 – 30 feet high with a similar spread over many years), with its beautiful foliage, exquisite bark and graceful habit, can be used as a lovely grove, a fine lawn specimen, or a focal point in a border planting. It is also tough enough to thrive as a street tree. The Pennsylvania Horticulture Society awarded this tree its prestigious Gold Medal Award in 1996. It earned the Great Plant Pick in 2004 and in 2008, it received the Tower Hill Botanic Garden’s Cary Award.


Discriminating horticulturists number this tree among those they would love to have in their gardens but propagation difficulty has limited availability in the trade. Early spring and fall are the best times to plant trees, so search specialty nurseries or mail-order catalogs to locate sources for this outstanding maple.

Links back to:

Three-Flower Maple (Acer triflorum) in Asian Collections

Velvety newly emerged leaves

Spectacular fall color

Exquiste exfoliating bark

 Back to the Arboretum Home Page
Arboretum Information || Events & Education || Gardens & Horticulture || Research Activities
Support the Arboretum || New Plant Introductions || USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map || Comments
Search Our Site

Last Updated  April 30, 2009 5:35 PM

Please address any comments or questions regarding any portion of this web page by e-mail to the FNPRU site administrator