Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Pacific Fire vine maple

acer-circinatum-pacific-fire-twigs-640

 

Amazing red twigs in the cool months?  Not that hard, actually.  These are the terrific twigs of 'Pacific Fire' vine maple.  Acer circinatum isn't a natural for the East Coast; it prefers the cool winters and warm but dry Summers of its native Pacific Northwest.  But 'Pacific Fire' is worth working hard for—see "How to handle it" below—because its Winter bark is unique.

 

No, not in color.  If you want Winter bark that's fire-engine red, there are other maples to plant, let alone Siberian dogwoods and willows.  But unlike every other "flamer," the bark of 'Pacific Fire' is exciting from head to toe. 

 

acer-circinatum-pacific-fire-overall-640

 

'Pacific Fire' is colorful from the top of the tree to just inches above the ground, where the graft meets the rootstock. 

 

acer-circinatum-pacific-fire-trunk-640

 

Every other hardy species that produces colorful young twigs needs to be pruned heavily in Spring to do it; if any young branches are left to grow that second season, they switch over to bark that's boring brown.  And without exception, the trunks themselves are always boring brown.  (Am I missing any possibilities?  Coral-bark maple, snake-bark maple, various willows, Siberian dogwood?)

 

But the older the bark of 'Pacific Fire' gets, the lighter it gets.  The new twigs of my tree are a deep coral-red in cool weather, but the oldest bark—right at the base—is a pale orange.

 

Now if I'd only get around to providing an evergreen groundcover!

 

 

Here's how to grow this elegant West Coast native:


Latin Name

Acer circinatum 'Pacific Fire'

Common Name

'Pacific Fire' vine maple

Family

Sapindaceae, the Soapberry family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous tree.

Hardiness

Zones 5 or 6 - 9.

Habit

Twiggy and upright; denser and shorter than the species.   

Rate of Growth

Medium

Size in ten years

Full-size: Eight feet tall and five or six feet wide.

Texture

Denser than the straight species, but branch structure is still visible even when the tree is in full foliage.

Grown for

its foliage, which is impressive Spring through Fall: In Spring, the sycamore-like leaves emerge yellow with a rosy overlay.  By Summer, they've matured to light green or chartreuse.  In Fall, they intensify to bright yellow.  Even the leaf-buds themselves are colorful: The enclosing scale is a pinkish red, and sticks around even after the young foliage has emerged.  

 

its coral-red twigs and branches:  As bright as those of Siberian dogwood, the bark of 'Pacific Fire' plays second fiddle to none.  Unlike the bright bark of willows and Siberian dogwoods, which matures to a boring brown on branches that are more than a year old, the coloring of 'Pacific Fire' is permanent and head-to-toe.  My 'Pacific Fire' is incendiary all the way to the base of the trunk, where the tree is grafted to the understock.  The trunk bark is paler than that of the twigs, but it's still colorful.  The trunk of my individual is more orange in the Winter; perhaps it's in the Pacific Northwest that the trunk turns the pale color shown in pictures.  The bark is bright green in warm weather. 

 

its flowers:  white, with projecting stamens and reflexed burgundy petals.  They're a very stylish contrast to the chartreuse foliage.

Flowering season

Spring, as the new foliage is emerging.  May here in Rhode Island.

Color combinations

I welcome all possible color in the colder months, and happily suspend my warm-weather color sensitivities about planting red by yellow, or pink near anything but blue or burgundy or white or more pink.  For me, then, the vivid red twigs of 'Pacific Fire' would be welcome anywhere.  Its yellow Fall foliage is also appropriate anywhere, because by the first Frost I'm already suspending color sensitivity for the rest of the year. 

Partner plants

Because 'Pacific Fire' is an active participant in the garden year-round, its neighbors are best considered for year-round appeal, as well.  If everything else is drab twigs or has died back to bare dirt, 'Pacific Fire' alone won't save things.  This is a case of "Do-as-I-say, not Do-as-I've-done," because my own 'Pacific Fire' is assorting mostly with fully-deciduous neighbors (Helianthus, Aster, ferns) that are no help at all in Winter.  Better would be evergreen underplantings—broadleaf as well as coniferous—as well as evergreen backgrounders.  Deep green is always the best place to start, but the red twigs are also lively in front of "evergreens" that are actually yellow or blue.   

Where to use it in your garden

'Pacific Fire' is impressively colorful year-round, so locate it where you can enjoy it year-round as well.  Ideally, by paving, so you can enjoy the brilliant cold-weather twigs without having to tromp across wet and squishy lawn.     

Culture

Any well-draining decent soil, sited in afternoon shade.

How to handle it: The Basics

Acer circinatum is always easiest planted on the East side of larger horticulture, to ensure it gets the afternoon shade it welcomes.  The tree is an understory species where it's native, so planting it amid high-canopy shade trees is another practical solution. 

 

The species is comfortable with Summer drought—Summers are characteristically dry in the Pacific Northwest, anyway—and is, therefore, also ill-at-ease in locations with slow drainage and heavy soil.  (No wonder mine is persisting but not whistling Dixie.  Slow drainage and heavy soil are, indeed, my garden's themes.)

 

Unique among hardy plants with young twigs that are red, 'Pacific Fire' doesn't need radical pruning each Spring to encourage their growth.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

None:  This is the rare tree in my garden whose natural shape and branching are best. 

Quirks or special cases

None.

Downsides

Vine maple is a no-brainer in its native coastal Pacific Northwest.  There it's fully at home with the wet Winters that are cool and even cold, and that alternate with sunny but not overly hot Summers that can be quite dry.  The high Summer heat and humidity typical of most gardens East of the Rockies is less to its liking.  Afternoon shade, therefore, is even more welcome in the East.   

 

In my experience, more than a few of the young twigs of 'Pacific Fire' die, and the tree needs a bit of grooming—it takes five minutes of clipping a year—so those dead-brown twigs don't mess up the incredible Winter display of coral-red bark.

Variants

Maples are a generous family; there are few species that don't offer a range of diverse cultivars.  Acer circinatum is now available in a number of dwarf forms, with different flavors of Fall foliage.  Other cultivars, dwarf as well as full-size, have Spring foliage that is ephemerally hued with apricot or pink or red.  The foliage of 'Monroe' is more dissected than usual.

 

If the East Coast were an easier habitat for Acer circinatum, I'd branch out, so to speak, into other cultivars.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By grafting. 

Native habitat

Acer circinatum is native to the Pacific Northwest, from northern California to British Columbia.

 
 
FacebookTwitterRSS Feed

Stay in touch!

 

Sign up for twice-monthly eNews, plus notification of new posts:

 

* indicates required