In this age of instant gratification, we tend to want the flashiest plant and to want it now. We’re dazzled by the newest, the biggest, the most colorful. We’ve learned to expect novelty and, far too often, we tend to overlook the value of what’s standard.
But like a good pair of jeans or that trusted pair of boots, sometimes the best plants are those that we’ve known—and perhaps have taken for granted—for a long time. One of these must-have plants is Acer palmatum (Japanese maple) and, in particular, the cultivar ‘Bloodgood’.
Experts at the Missouri Botanical Garden call it “tried and trouble- free.” And it is. Japanese maple is particularly forgiving of many challenging soil conditions, including the post-construction-plus-50-year mess found on my postage-stamp property. With every new shovelful I unearth chunks of concrete, pieces of brick and piles of sand and pebbles among the layers of clay. Yet my lovely, small tree continues to thrive in a corner of the yard that has seen the demise of several plants. I’ve tried other shrubs and a few perennials in this space, none of which has survived. But my ‘Bloodgood’ is a real trouper, anchoring the corner and growing—slowly—into a graceful small tree.
Foliage is Japanese maple’s calling card, and while other cultivars may boast deeply dissected leaves and variegated colors, Bloodgood’s strength is in its reliably rich, burgundy tone. Rather than offer a riot of quaking color, this cultivar presents an elegant cloak.
Make no mistake: Acer palmatum is no shrinking violet. It stands out in the landscape with its palmate leaves, usually with five or seven pointed, toothed lobes, making it suitable as a focal point or as the perfect foil for a mass of green in the landscape. In my tiny back yard, the Japanese maple stands as a counterpoint to the varied and often-variegated sweeps of green. But one of the finest examples of companion plantings I’ve seen is on the terrace at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, where the robust red of ‘Bloodgood’ maples is paired with silvery Montgomery blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’). Picture your favorite Levis and a burgundy cashmere sweater: unassuming, comfortable—yet elegant.
Most Acer palmatum do well in full sun to part shade, and ‘Bloodgood’ in particular does very well in dappled shade away from sharp winds. While not necessarily classified as drought-tolerant, once established it can withstand periods of want without becoming overly stressed. A slow, deep watering now and then is appreciated, however, and can help the foliage to retain its rich color.
The plant has few enemies, although injured individuals may become susceptible to stem canker. Despite the rabbits that invade my yard, the tree has not been affected; rabbits tend to steer clear.
Photo courtesy of Sally Benson
Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ has an unfortunate name, and the tree’s reputation tends to suffer from perceived overexposure. Another Japanese maple? What’s new?
Well, a plant needn’t always be new to be desirable. It needn’t be the latest concoction, sporting previously unseen colors, to have value. In fact, some of the most valuable additions to the garden are old friends—because they don’t ask for much, and they tend to last.
Name: Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’
Common Name: Bloodgood Japanese maple
Hardiness: 5 to 8
Mature height: 15 to 20 feet
Mature spread: 15 to 20 feet
Classification: Small tree or multistemmed shrub
Landscape use: Specimen or focal point; especially suited to punctuate a mixed border
Ornamental characteristics: Rich, burgundy-red foliage holds its color throughout the season, but may deepen or turn bronze in fall; inconspicuous, purplish red flowers bloom in midspring, followed by pairs of samaras that ripen in fall. Slow-growing, this small tree often begins with a subtle vase form, but eventually develops a graceful, rounded shape.