What is a Trident Maple?

Alex Tree

Trident maple, scientifically known as Acer buergerianum, is a species of tree belonging to the family Aceraceae. It is commonly grown as a garden tree in many temperate regions and is a native of Taiwan and China. Being a slow-growing tree, the trident maple requires little maintenance and is often planted as a street or patio tree. It is also a highly preferred specie for bonsai art because it is suitable for use with bonsai techniques, such as leaf reduction. The plant’s gnarly roots and trunks readily thicken and respond well to the popular root-over-rock bonsai design.

Caterpillars are considered a pest to trident maples.
Caterpillars are considered a pest to trident maples.

All varieties of the plant are deciduous and thrive in full sun and well-drained soil. These trees can tolerate strong winds, air pollution, and drought but tend to suffer breakage during ice storms. As the tree ages, its bark peels to reveal another layer in brown, orange or gray.

Trident maple trees can withstand drought.
Trident maple trees can withstand drought.

Also referred to as the three-toothed maple, the trident maple varies from 16 to 65 feet (about 5 to 20 m) in height and the trunk is normally around 1.6 feet (0.5 m) in diameter. The tree is often pruned before it is planted in order to make it form a desired shape. Like other maple trees, the trident maple is generally free of diseases and pests but may be susceptible to damage by caterpillars.

Usually three-lobed, the leaves are glossy and dark green on top, but pale on the bottom. These leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, each measuring about 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 8 cm) in length and roughly 1.4 to 2.5 inches (3.5 to 6.5 cm) in width. On mature trees, the leaves have smooth margins and lobes that normally point forward. The young trees, on the other hand, produce leaves with serrated margins and the lobes tend to spread outward more than older tree leaves.

During spring time, the trident maple produces flowers that appear in loosely-hanging clusters. Each flower consists of eight male reproductive organs, five green sepals and five yellow-white petals measuring about 0.08 inches (2 mm) in length. The fruits resemble a flattened papery wing containing two seeds that measure 0.2 to 0.3 inches (about 4 to 7 mm) in diameter. In general, the wings point forward and usually overlap each other.

Propagation of the trident maple is commonly done with cuttings or seeds. When grown in pots, repotting is required every two years, particularly in the early part of spring, which is the period of active growth. To ensure leaves grow on the lower parts of this plant, a gardener must prune the crown of the tree strongly.

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