Plant Palette

Plant Palette

Lion's Head Japanese Maple

Photo of Jennifer Schultz Nelson

Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
jaschult@illinois.edu

Lion's Head Japanese Maple

Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira'

I usually associate Japanese Maples with very lacy, even delicate foliage. I was very surprised when I saw the Lion's Head Japanese Maple recently. It is unlike any Japanese Maple I have ever seen, both in appearance and price.

The leaves of the Lion's Head Japanese Maple are deep green and very coarse, crinkled, and curled. To some, these curled leaves look like the mane of a lion, one reason for this cultivar's name.

Lion's Head Japanese Maple grows in a sculptural upright vase shape, and is a particularly slow grower, taking more than ten years to reach its mature height of fifteen feet. This slow growth makes it well-suited to container planting, and a very versatile choice in the garden. Its form improves with age, and is a great contrast to the more lacy forms of Japanese Maple.

Another great feature of the Lion's Head Japanese Maple is its fall color. It is one of the last trees to color in the fall, sometimes waiting into November before developing color. Most would argue the gorgeous color is worth the wait, a mix of golden yellows and deep red-orange, again reminiscent of a lion's thick mane, no doubt influencing the naming of this cultivar.

In my opinion, one drawback to this cultivar is that a fairly large specimen tends to be expensive. The one I saw was about five or six feet tall, with a price tag of $589. An alternative would be to buy a seedling or germinate the seed yourself, but the tradeoff is the time it will take to achieve significant size. But think of the satisfaction you'll have when your seedling achieves a $589 size at a fraction of the cost!

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