Thursday, November 08, 2007

Acer palmatum, Sango kaku (Coral Tower) Japanese Maple fall colors

The Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku', Syn. 'Senkaki' (Coral Bark maple, Cinnabar Wood maple [Vertrees]) is the second Japanese maple to turn this fall. This is the oldest Japanese maple in the yard except for the 'Bloodgood' we inherited when we moved into the home.

Like the 'Beni kawa' mentioned in a previous blog the Sango kaku's bark is colored bright red which fades somewhat on the older wood. Like red twig dogwood it is a great plant to have for winter interest especially when contrasted by snow. Many people buy the tree for the red bark but the tree makes a wonderfully shaped small specimen tree and the yellow gold leaves with a hint of apricot makes it a great fall tree too.

I originally planted the tree in our front yard which faces NNW. The year's new vegetative growth always suffered from the winter cold, burning the tender branches so the tree barely grew. The dieback stunted the tree terribly. I finally decided to relocate the tree to a more protected southern exposure and the tree has more than doubled its original size of 4 feet in two years and is now about 10 feet in height. The tree will eventually attain a height of 25-30 feet. I had previously moved several good sized JMs and haven't lost any. The Japanese maple has proven to be a very tough and resilient tree with no evidence of transplant shock or leaf wilt so I had no fear in moving the tree.

Apparently some Japanese writers have indicated that their Sango kaku have unremarkable leaf color in fall and describe the bark color as a pink rather than red so the tree we call Sango kaku may not be the same cultivar as the Japanese trees. I wonder why the discrepancy?

Here's a quote on the UBC Botanical Gardens forum from a person known as Mr.shep who seems to be very knowledgeable about Japanese maples.

"...the old Senkaki (Coral Bark Maple) or what we called
the true Japanese form is not the same plant as Sango kaku
(Coral Tower). There are a variety of differences in these
two Maples. The bark color of your Maple is more consistent
with Sango kaku rather than Senkaki with its more coral in color,
almost a salmon pink in color. The lower trunk colors are the
same on both Maples but as Andre pointed out the branch color
in Sango kaku can indeed turn to a grayish color here later in
the year whereas Senkaki will have red colored twigs and will
have coral branch color year round. There is even a finer line
that separates Waka momiji Red Stem and Sango kaku as
opposed to Sango kaku and Senkaki. Mr. Vertrees to my
knowledge never owned a Senkaki to know this Maple well
at all. The one glaring post in the Vertrees books was that
the Japanese did not see strong Fall colors on their Sango
kaku when we could see glowing gold tones even in Fresno.
The reason is that the Maples were not the same plant.
Senkaki produces light yellow tones with some red flecks
but is not a strong Fall color producer. There has been
one so-called new Maple from Japan shown in this web
site that is nothing more than a "washed out" seedling
version of the old Senkaki Maple. People have not grown
enough seedlings from Senkaki to have seen the wash out
in bark color occur naturally."


..."What will confuse people is that the old Sango kaku that came into
the US from Japan is not the same plant more prevalently seen
in Europe. The seedling that came out of Oregon confuses the
issue even more."

Another look at the mature fall colors of the A. palmatum 'Beni kawa' which I mentioned in a previous blog. This photo was just taken a couple of days ago and the leaves are starting to turn brown at the edges. You can see that the color is a bit different than that of the Sango kaku, more peachy and less yellow. The tree in the background which is just starting to turn is a Acer palmatum 'Seiryu' the only green upright dissected leaf (split leaf) Japanese Maple. Usually the dissectums are weeping trees so the Seiryu is quite unusual because it doesn't weep.


Blogger Entangled said...

Our Japanese maples just started to turn last week. I only have 3, but Sango Kaku is one of them. I never noticed much fall color from it, but the coral twigs are almost fluorescent in the winter.

Do you have the Vertrees book? I've had it on my wish list for a long time, but haven't gotten around to buying a copy. I'm wondering what you think of it, if you've seen it.

4:55 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Thank you for sharing! It is so helpful to read the various experiences than "facts" from a book. Our Sango Kaku is really putting on a show of colors. Some of the leaves are even a deep red, similar to the bark. Is this typical? The majority are the usual golden hue, but I actually have a handful of leaves that are more red....

8:37 AM  
Blogger Vanillalotus said...

I can't get enough of the japanese maples. Beautiful colors and shape as always. I love the coral bark.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Ki said...

Hi Entangled,
How lucky to have the Sango kaku in your collection. How old is the tree? The first 3 years we had Sango kaku tree in the front yard with north exposure, the color of the leaves were unremarkable. Certainly not the gorgeous hue it is this year. Only when we moved it to a much more hospitable location did the color turn with more intensity. I wonder if your tree suffers from too much exposure like ours did? Do you see a lot of winter dieback?

I have the Vertrees second edition which I bought used from Ex Libris. It is a wonderful and useful book with tons of information and photographs, the definitive reference book on JMs. Type in Vertrees in the Amazon site. Several sources have the second editon for $14.10 - 14.99 + $3.99 shipping - a real bargain. I think I paid about $27.00 3 years ago. I read in some of the Japanese Maple forums that the second edition was much preferred over the 3rd because it was laid out better but it lacks many of the newer cultivars so I find it's not very useful if you want information about the many, many new JMs on the market. I think I read a couple of years ago that there were over 400 different cultivars of Acer Palmatum alone. It could be closer to 500 by now so even the 3rd edition probably needs revising.


Hi Jessica,
Thank you for stopping by. I was just out in the yard today admiring the Sango kaku and did notice that the some of the leaves are turning a reddish color. Not a deep red like yours but a blush. I'll keep and eye on it to see if the color keeps getting redder as the leaves age like they did on the Beni kawa. As you mentioned the reddish color is not on all of the branches but on a few that are more exposed to sun and the cold. I'd love to see the colors on your tree. Do you have a photo sharing account or blog?


Hi Vanillalotus,
"I can't get enough of the japanese maples" - me too! I have twenty some odd different trees in various stages of growth. :) An interesting observation about the shape: Some of the trees develop a long fast growing leader that's gangly and flops over and about in the wind. These eventually harden off and straightens so I was glad I didn't cut them off. The red bark makes it an all year interest tree. Thanks for your comment.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Entangled said...

My Sango Kaku is under some tall trees in the woods, so it's a fairly sheltered spot. I haven't noticed any dieback on it, but I've only had it about 3 years. It gets very little direct sun - maybe that's the reason for the subdued fall color.

Thanks for the info on the Vertrees book. I think when I put it on my amazon list, it was still available new - that's how long I've been meaning to buy it - but I didn't know about the differences between the 2nd and 3rd editions.

4:22 AM  
Blogger Ki said...

My book from Ex Libris looked very little used. The previous owner had even placed several different kind of JM leaves in the book so I had pressed leaves as a bonus.

Japanese maples are supposed to be understory trees but I wonder if yours is not getting enough light. Don't know how minerals or nutrients may affect color.

I'll have to look at the 3rd edition to see if there are that many more trees listed. As I mentioned, even the 3rd edition is now outdated with the introduction of new culitvars. Online searches for info on the newer trees are the only way to get photos and characteristics of the tree anyway so I don't know how useful the 3rd is over the 2nd edition.

5:27 AM  
Blogger shirl said...

Hello, Ki :-)

My Sango Kaku in Scotland has only a few leaves left on the tips of some young branches. How lovely this tree is in the garden - one of my favourites. Great photos. I wonder if my European tree is different from yours :-)

8:47 AM  
Blogger Ki said...

Hello Shirl,
I am stunned every time I look at a map to see how much further North Scotland is compared to the US. It explains why you have almost no leaves on your maple when ours has dropped only a few. "I wonder if my European tree is different from yours..." That's what the author of the article seemed to think. Does yours have a bright red trunk or is it a pinkish red? Do the leaves turn bright yellow? I bought a Villa Taranto which was found in Italy and the grafts were supposedly brought over to the US. However my tree doesn't seem to display any of the color traits associated with the original. So this business of identifying Japanese maples is a confusing one at best. ;) I took a quick peek at your blogs and they are wonderful. Will return and look at them more, soon.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Hello again! Actually yes, my blog has some photos of our Sango kaku--thanks for offering to take a look! Perhaps the coloring might be due to too much exposure to sun? It is mostly the top branches of leaves that are turning the bright red.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Digital Flower Pictures said...

I have to admit being slightly confused. My Sangos at the Estate (group of 3) are located in shade, more than part but not full shade. They have the coral stems and great fall color. Others I have planted elsewhere have the real red stems. I am guessing a lot of variations are sold under this label.

They really know there stuff over at the UBC forums and are very serious. You can get just about any plant ID'ed over there.

I think I will sit back and enjoy my 'Sango Kaku' Maples or whatever they are and not worry too much about it. I wish I had my camera today as they were in full color. I will try and get a snap of them if the rain doesn't knock the color off.

PS. My Beni-Kawa is really super right now. It has been really showy for seemingly weeks now. What a great tree!

Interesting post, Ki. Thanks for all the information.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Ki said...

Hi Jessica,
I'd love to have a look at your tree but I don't have your web site address. If you would be so kind as to send it to me I'll take a look asap. Thanks.


Hi Chris,
Gee, it's interesting that your trees actually have the coral coloration. I wonder if those are the actual trees from Japan and not the ones they are selling in the US as Sango kaku with bright red branches. Well, as you wrote, they are all beautiful so I'll just enjoy what I have. With the cold and wet weather the colors have deepened considerably. The tree still looks very nice but I wonder what the cold snap we're about to experience will do to it.

My Beni kawa still has most of the leaves but they are turning quite brown - actually tan, now. About a month or more of very nice color. This tree may rival the Sango kaku when it matures a bit more.

Thanks for stopping by.

6:16 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Hello! My blog site is


6:39 AM  
Blogger Ki said...

Hi Jessica, I actually have your site on my list of links but didn't connect your name with Sunshine, Freedom etc... Thanks for mentioning my write up of the Sango kaku. I am quite amazed that your tree looks so good when it's still very young. I hope you like the Vertrees book. That can easily wipe out your whole weekend. Luckily there's not much work now that can't be set aside to curl up with that book.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

I purchased a Sango Kaku as a centerpiece for my front yard. It is small, maybe 4 1/2 feet high. I have read that they can become 25 feet high. I have also heard that you can keep them at about 15 feet easily. I don't think people with a smaller area should be discouraged by such height problem. Mine did crisp in the hot Oakley, CA sun, but I found 16 16 16 fertilizer and just water from watering my lawn twice a day caused it to become lush with beautiful healthy leaves. I am also going to run a drip system to it. I think the fertilizer gave a boost to it's root system in my sandy soil without nutrition. I was told at the nursery it would crisp until it's root system developed enough to support the leaves. I think the fertilizer caused this process to happen more rapidly than just waiting for the two years they said I would have to wait for it to happen naturally. It is really out there in 100 degree weather with no shade and looking like it is almost tropical. I thought others might want to try what I did.

3:38 PM  

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