Our Vine Maple: a native plant reborn (Acer circinatum)

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The original tree is on the right. The new growth is that on the left.

Time to introduce my ugly vine maple, a tree that only this gardener can love and I can’t even tell you how old it is, but my guess is that it’s close to 15 years old now.

When we visit gardens, it’s easy to say that something looks bad, or even that it’s ugly. Many visitors will see this soon and say that it’s unattractive and maybe that it should be put out of its misery. I myself am a believer in plant-driven design, and this tree doesn’t look as if it’s in the right spot, but there’s a reason it’s so ugly, and that has to do with the additional light that poured in after the Doug fir was removed, and the shape it was already in. It was leaning and that just looked bad.

But, as the mentors of my childhood would have said, that’s the lazy way to think. Let’s not just jump onto the ugly train. Let’s dig deeper. What’s going on here!?!

The original tree was planted at least 15 years ago when it was part of the understory beneath the 7-headed Doug fir tree that was removed because it was dangerous.

Vine maples can lean and sometimes they lean hard and FAR. This one started to lean and it was stretching towards the light. It grew quite tall. After the Doug fir was removed, for years, it fried. Last summer it started to fail but I chose to hold off on cutting it down since it appeared to be regrowing, redirecting even the root growth. I wanted to observe what was going on and why.

This spring, it has very noticeable and strong new growth. I’m thrilled, but it means rethinking the area again.

I look forward to watching the new growth grow. In the meantime, it is likely that I will remove the old trunk soon.

The new growth looks good. The old trunk and its branches are alive, but it is clear that the organism wants that side to die as its energy has been focused elsewhere. In the wild, with a bit more time, the old trunk would just snap and break as it became more brittle.

I kept this tree going on purpose. It’s called a vine maple for a reason, and if you’ve never thought about it, well, it’s the only maple capable of layering itself and its behaving more like a shrub than a tree. Layering that can root is more like a vining shrub. While that is not what is happening here—these are much more like new shoots—it’s clearly a tree that has a different way of being in the natural world.

It’s for these reasons that I kept it around. Before I had several umbrellas for shade, it was a shade tree in summer. From indoors, it blocks my view of the neighbors’ homes for many months each year. I enjoy native plants, so I will keep this experiment going. (Yes, for the record, that tree needs water and it is in my more heavily watered garden zone.)

There are other trees planted near it that I’m hoping will grow more soon to help support more of a canopy, but a few of the other trees are struggling too. The strong winds from the east via the Columbia River Gorge are hard for trees in this area. So many of mine are always leaning because of the wind.

But that’s another post so more on that in the months to come…

You Know You’re in the NW When…

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You are walking along the sidewalk in downtown Seattle, it’s raining, you look down at the grate you are about to cross, making sure you won’t slip and slide into the street, and you see this. Where else in the world do ferns grow like this? I am sure they are out there, but this little sight was kind of funny and I had to smile. Hope it makes you smile too.