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What is a Coral Bark Japanese Maple?

By O. Parker
Updated May 16, 2024
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Coral bark Japanese maple trees are one of the over 400 cultivars of Japanese maples. Japanese maples are in the Acer family, along with standard western maple trees. Native to Japan and parts of China, the Japanese maple, including coral bark Japanese maple, is an understory plant commonly found growing under larger forest trees. In the landscape, the relatively small structure and bright fall foliage makes these trees a bright focal point and area of interest. Coral bark Japanese maple is also called Japanese sunrise maple, and beni kawa maple.

The most striking feature of the coral bark Japanese maple is the delicate but bright dark pink or red bark. In the winter when the leaves fall, the bark is particularly striking and can add winter interest to temperate climate gardens. The leaves are delicate yellow-green in the spring with gradually increasing reds and plum colors on the edges as the season progresses. In the late summer and early fall, the yellow intensifies and the reds and orange colors become more pronounced. The small red flowers bloom in late spring and remain on the tree though the summer, after which they fall with the leaves in autumn and early winter.

These Japanese maples have an upright growing habit and a vigorous growth rate compared to other dwarf Japanese maple cultivars. Mature trees grow up to 25 feet (about 7.5 m) tall with a spread of 20 feet (about 6 m), though a mature growth height of 10 to 12 feet (about 3 to 3.6 m) with a spread of 6 to 8 feet (about 1.8 to 2.4 m) is common. During the first five to seven years, coral bark Japanese maples grow fast and can be be brittle and prone to breakage, though once growth slows, the branches tend to firm up. Planting young trees where they will be provided with some wind protection, at least until they reach mature heights, can minimize potential damage.

Coral bark Japanese maple trees prefer light shade to full sun, except in cool climates prone to periods of overcast weather, where the trees will thrive in full sun. Japanese maples grow best in slightly acidic soil with good nutrient levels and drainage. The trees can tolerate alkaline soil, but higher acidity will bring out greater variation and vibrancy in the leaf colors. To avoid infestations of bacterial blight, coral bark Japanese maples should be planted in an area where they get plenty of air circulation.

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