Tatarian Maple

There may be close to 200 species of maples.

Who knew? I thought I’d do a quick post on a tree I “discovered” this summer, some sort of fancy maple. When you grow up in the East, you think all maples are sugar maples with leaves like those of the Canadian flag. 1200x1200 Top 79 Canada Clip ArtLittle did I know there are somewhere around 200 species of maples and not all of their leaves resemble the Canadian maple leaf. Most of the maple species grow in Asia and a few of them are evergreen! This blog has already covered one of the trees from China, the paperbark maple.

Some species of maple trees are native to North America, but many more have been introduced. Maples grow throughout the continent. According to JenniferAckerfield’s Flora of Colorado, only three species are native to Colorado. While many maples are currently on the threatened list, including the paperbark maple, Acer tataricum is not.

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Tatarian Maple (Acer tararicum)

This type of maple is adaptable, so adaptable the state of Connecticut has declared it possibly invasive. A native of Asia, this small tree or shrub has edible seeds and could be tapped for syrup, but it isn’t likely to yield enough to be of much value. The seeds, or samsaras, of this species turn a red color in the summer.

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Tatarian Maple samsara turning red
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Bark of the tatarian maple.

There is a second Tatarian maple in the park, and it was this other tree I first noticed. With a name like Hot Wings, you might think this variety was developed in Buffalo, New York, but its true birthplace is right here in Fort Collins, Colorado! When I first encountered it, from a distance I thought it might be a crabapple with early fruit, although the shape of the overall tree seemed wrong. Up close it was obvious it wasn’t a crabapple and was labeled a maple, a Hot Wings Tartarian Maple.

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Tatarian Hot Wings Maple

This is another small tree often used for ornamental purposes. It does well in adverse conditions. The show piece of this tree are the samsaras, which turn bright red in the summer. Although the leaves in the accompanying photo are mauled by hail and difficult to discern, they look very much like the leaves in the picture above and not at all like a Canadian maple leaf.

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Bright red samsaras of the Hot Wings Maple.

Finding the trees in City Park:

The Tatarian Maple (Acer tataricum) C167 is near the corner of Sheldon Drive and Mulberry Street, on the east side of Sheldon Drive. Locate it between the exercise station near the City Park pedestrian crossing and the stone City Park entrance sign.

The showier D202 Tatarian Hot Wings Maple (Acer tataricum Hot Wings) is about halfway to the intersection of Sheldon and City park on the lakeside of the street. It is near a wooden box, which actually looks more like a blank sign, and a stone memorial bench. 

Lilac Tree-Extending the Blooms But Do They Smell Good?

Some say the blooms smell like honey.

Many years ago a friend wrote a story featuring Lilac trees. We objected that lilacs were shrubs, not trees, but apparently we weren’t aware of Syringa reticulata, or the Japanese tree lilac. A similar tree, the Peking tree lilac was at one time considered a separate species Syringa pekinensis although some now consider it subspecies of the Japanese Lilac tree.

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Peking tree lilac to the right of the bench. Smaller Japanese tree lilac to the left blends in with the larger tree behind it.

Both trees have origins in Asia, most notably Japan, China, Korea, and a part of Russia. Possibly Japanese tree lilac is  more common in the United States. The USDA lists it primarily as a tree introduced in New York, three New England states and Wyoming! The national champion tree is found in Massachusetts. Oddly, according to the USDA, the Peking version has only been introduced into Pennsylvania. Most sources mention the trees are often used  as landscape accents and street trees. There are numerous Japanese Tree Lilacs in New York City, with fewer Peking Tree Lilacs. The Japanese variety is a featured tree in Central Park.

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Flower sprays of the Japanese tree lilac

The genus Syringa includes the common lilac as well as about thirty other varieties. The Japanese tree lilac is said to be the only member of the genus that attains tree status. This would seem accurate if the Peking tree lilac is considered a subspecies.

The later blooming of the white flowers appears to be the main attraction of these trees, although they are also said to be drought and pollution resistant. The trees in Fort Collins have been flowering for a week or so, making them concurrent with the Catalpas. Larger trees are also valued for their shade canopy.

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Close up of a Japanese tree lilac

Various authors disagree about the scent of the trees, some saying it is unpleasant, others that it has little to no odor and others saying the Peking tree scent is that of honey. Before the trees stop blooming, you’ll have to smell for yourself and decide.

The major difference between the two varieties seems to be the bark, with that of the Chinese Tree Lilac, an alternate name along with Pekin Tree for the obvious specimen, being reddish and peeling later in the year. The strips of bark look to me like someone has wrapped the tree in packing tape.

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Bark of the Peking Tree Lilac

As with many other aspects of trees, there is controversy over this small species. Some sources are concerned the trees are invasive. Other areas of the country from cities in Massachusetts  to the state of Wyoming note them as underused trees. Illinois considers the Japanese Lilac Tree as low risk of invasiveness.

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Gnarly trunk of the Japanese tree lilac

To find the marked trees in the park, turn from Mulberry Street onto Sheldon Drive and park close to the intersection with City Park Drive in front of the Arm Walking exercise station. Directly east are the two trees pictured in the photo with the bench. C181 Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata) is the smaller tree to the south. The larger tree to the north of the bench is C187 Peking Tree Lilac (Syringa pekinensis). A larger version of the latter tree, D212, which I believe was planted in the 1960s, can be seen on the northwest corner of Mulberry and Sheldon.

A cultivar of the Japanese tree lilac, E4 Ivory Silk Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata Ivory Silk) 

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Japanese tree lilac Ivory Silk

is viewable in front of the Parks Department building at 413 S. Bryan. This memorial tree is directly in front of the building. The state of Washington suggests this variety as a smart addition to the Pacific Northwest Garden.

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Flowers of the Ivory Silk Japanese tree lilac