Vine maple (Acer circinatum) commonly grows as a large open shrub or small tree reaching 10-25 feet tall. It typically grows in the shady forest understory but is sometimes found out in the open. Like many plants, it typically gets taller in the shade and stays more compact in the sun.
Like all maples, the branches and leaves grow in pairs off the stem, known as “opposite branching.” Leaves are 3-14 cm long and broad, and thinly hairy on the underside. They are palmately lobed with 7-11 lobes, which are pointed with coarsely toothed margins. The flowers make a small but dramatic show in spring, blooming a bright red and whitish-green from May – June. The fruit is a two-seeded winged fruit called a samara, starting green then turning reddish-brown as they ripen. The leaves turn bright yellow to orange-red in fall and provide some of our most vivid native fall color.
Vine maples are important trees for wildlife. They provide nesting sites and cover for many birds and mammals. Vireos weave basket-like nests that hang in the forks of the branches. Birds use the seed stalks and leaves for nest building. Squirrels, chipmunks and birds eat the seeds, and the caterpillars of the brown tissue moth and Polyphemus moth forage on the leaves.
Vine maple grows best in part shade and moist soils. It can live out in the open but exposed leaves may burn and turn reddish in the afternoon sun. This is a beautiful specimen plant for a shady corner, or a tall screen to soften the side of a house. Pair it with snowberry and ferns for year-round interest.
- Light Requirements: Full Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade
- Water Requirements: Moist
- Ease of Growing: Easy to grow
- Growth Rate: Moderate
- Spreads: No
- Wildlife Support: Pollinators, Pest-eating Insects, Birds or Mammals
- Fire-resistant: Yes
- Edible: No
- Mature Height: 20-25ft
- Mature Width:15-20ft