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Woody > Acer > Acer circinatum > Acer circinatum

Acer circinatum

Vine Maple

Origin:  Canada and United States of America. The Vine Maple is not just a tree, it has a town named after it as well. Vine Maple, Western Oregon was named after this tree because of a post office that was operating in the town for about 10 years. The copious Acer circinatum's growth around the post office and the whole town, induced people to name not just the post office, but the entire town after this tree. The Vine Maple is found in the Northern United States and British Columbia, Canada.
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Acer circinatum is quite a hardy plant, able to grow in either full sun or full shade. It is most commonly grown in moist rich soil, preferably with a high clay content. It requires full shade in order to reproduce rapidly. Vine Maple can also grow into a small ornamental tree. When exposed to full or partial sunlight, the tree reaches a mature height of 10 - 15 m.

Michael Pascoe, NDP., ODH., CLT., MSc. (Plant Conservation)


Sapindaceae (Aceraceae)
Tree (deciduous)
USDA Hardiness Zone
6 - 9
Canadian Hardiness Zone
RHS Hardiness Zone
H7 - H3
Temperature (°C)
-21 - (-1)
10 - 15 m
20 m
Description and Growing Information
Flowering Period
General Description
This species has been placed on the IUCN Red List as least concern. The Vine Maple is a deciduous tree, native to Northern California and southern British Columbia. It usually grows into a shrub, but under proper conditions it can grow into a small tree with heights ranging from 10 to 15 feet. When this shrub flowers, the flowers are white and grow into small closely arranged groups that shoot out from the leaves. One telltale sign to tell you are looking at a Vine Maple, is the abnormal crooked trunk, unlike most maples with upright trunks. This tree likes to be planted in soils with high clay content, because it prefers moist soil. The high clay content makes the soil a slowly draining soil, meaning the tree will be able to thrive on several centimeters of rain over a few months. This makes the Vine Maple a very hardy, sustainable plant.
The Vine Maple is very adaptable, and it is able to grow in almost every type of soil. Its favourite soil is a fairly humus rich soil with a slight acidity to it. In order to cultivate this tree, the seeds must be completely dried out. After that, they should be buried in a pot full of moist peat moss, at a low temperature for at least 150 days. This allows the seed and the samaras, to undergo stratification. Because this tree likes growing in soil with a high clay content, it makes it very drought tolerant
The shape of this tree can differ greatly depending on what type of growing conditions that it is dealing with. It is most commonly a small multi stemmed tree, with winding and curvy branches, when grown in full sun. But when it is grown in the shade, it becomes a very expansive shrub, being able to completely dominate the landscape it is living in.
ID Characteristic
The bark of this tree is unique to most other maples. From green to red bark, the colour of the bark on Vine Maples can vary. A definitive way to spot these trees is usually by looking at the terminal buds, or in this case the lack thereof. Another way to identify a Vine Maple is by looking at its fruits. The wings of the fruits are spread out very widely, and almost parallel to each other.
Just like any other maple tree, is susceptible to many common garden pests (aphids, scale insects, caterpillars and mites). Releasing certain insects, such as ladybugs, will help to keep aphids at bay, because the ladybug is actually a predator and loves eating aphids. Aphids usually appear at the end of seasons, or at the changing of the seasons. Aphids appear at these times because there is usually new growth happening within the tree: the formation of new branches, or the leaves growing back onto the tree. If you are suspicious that your Vine Maple has an aphid infestation, you should start by checking the underside of the yellow leaves of the tree (aphids are attracted to yellow). If you notice any remnants of the aphids being there, just a simple jet of cold water should do the trick to get rid of a small amount of them. Along with almost the entire Maple family, this tree is also susceptible to Verticillium Wilt. Although these trees are more resistant to this disease than others, you should still be vigilant when planting them. You are able to see when this tree has Verticillium Wilt when the foliage changes from its pleasant green colour to a gross yellow or brown colour. Verticillium Wilt is hard to stop because the discolourations in the foliage
This tree is native to the “Pacific Northwest forests of the Cascade crest”. It can tolerate both sunny and shady conditions, making it a very sustainable tree. This tree can be found in southwest British Columbia, in fact, this is the only place where the tree is actually native to Canada because of the acidic soils of the Canadian West. These soil conditions and therefore the Vine Maple run all the way down to Northeastern Oregon, in very broadly arranged groups. This tree is known for its hardiness because it has the ability to retake lost land, (land lost to clear cutting or forest fires). It grows abundantly in the wild, and along shaded stream edges. It is also able to almost completely take over an area of a forest if grouped together. The Vine Maple is seen very often in the wild by hiking expeditions because it creates a sort of ‘tunnel’ in the forest when densely populated. More often than not, this tree is being grown as an “understory” in the dense shadow of the Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).
Bark/Stem Description
The bark of the Vine Maple is different than that of an Acer Saccharum (Sugar Maple). The difference between the two is almost interspecies, at least it looks like it. The Vine Maple’s bark is green and platey with few deep ridges in it. It can change colour from green to red depending on the growing conditions it is dealing with. When this plant is growing in the sun, the stems and bark are red in colour. This changes when it is growing in shade, as the colour turns to a sort of lime green colour. The bark growing on the Vine Maple is thin and not so much for its protection as it is for its looks. The bark on this tree is thin.
Flower/Leaf Bud Description
The buds of the Vine Maple are kind of unusual because the tree usually is without a terminal bud. The only time it has a terminal bud is when there is a flowering bud in its place. Just like any other Maple, this tree also has one to two pairs of lateral buds. The outer section of the bud scales are hairless, but their inside is hairy. These buds have a red colour to them.
Leaf Description
Opposite, 7 - 9 shallow lobes, pale green in colour, creating a beautifully coloured autumn foliage. The leaves of the Vine Maple can vary from round to cordate, most leaves are 7-9 cm long (2’8”- 3’5”). The Vine Maple has pointed leaves that are double toothed. The Vine Maple is a very interesting tree, the reason for that is the leaves of the tree change to completely different colours when they are exposed to different growing conditions. When the Vine Maple is grown in the shade, the leaves will actually turn to a brilliant golden tint. But if it is grown in full sun, it will act like any other Maple tree and turn the expected red and orange, still looking very nice in the process. With most Maples, you are usually only seeing dull green coloured leaves in Spring and Summer, and then a normal red or orange colour in the Fall. The Vine Maple, on the other hand, is always flourishing with vibrantly green coloured leaves for the majority of the year, then transforms into an intense red or orange in the autumn months. The leaves of this tree are opposite, the colour of their underside is a fainter green than the top side, along with small groups of hairs corresponding with the veins of the leaf. The leaves of this tree are very high in nutrients, meaning that when the leaves fall off the tree, they are ultimately making the soil richer by putting more organic material back into the mix. By doing this, it is a very self sufficient, hardy tree because it has the ability to improve its own growing conditions without any outside assistance. When this tree is grown in the sun, its leaves grow to 7-9 cm long, although this can change when the plant is growing in complete shade. The leaves will actually grow bigger than normal to capture more light than they would normally need.
Flower Description
Small reddish-purple flowers in short terminal clusters. The flowers of the Vine Maple have expanding purple sepals and petals of a whiter tint, both about 12 mm wide. The flowers will almost always have the male and the female parts on one plant. The flowers appear only when the leaves are half grown.
Fruit Description
Samaras 3-5 cm in length, red when young, flat-winged nutlet. The fruits of the Vine Maple are oddly shaped propellers, just like any other Maple trees' fruits are. Except the fact that these fruits have an almost 180 degree angle between one wing and the other. The way the fruit looks is unusual too; it almost looks like they are upside down in comparison to generic maple keys. The wings of the keys have varying lengths of about 25 - 38 mm long. They have a red to almost rosey colour to them in the summer. The seeds are encased in a sort of swollen ridged and hairless exterior. The fruits are in the mature stage by autumn.
Colour Description
When the tree is just sprouting and in its youngest stage, it has a sort of reddish-brown colour to it. But as the tree grows older, the bark turns to a more vibrant colour, almost a lime green colour. It is not done changing yet because once the tree has matured fully, and has more or less stopped growing, this tree turns to a grayish-green colour.
Texture Description
This tree is smooth to the touch, with the occasional crevice breaking through the tough outer bark. This is unusual for a maple, because the more common maple bark is an ugly brownish grey colour with large bumps, and sometimes even scars on it.
Ethnobotanical Uses (Disclaimer)
This tree was used by Native Americans to make a variety of weapons, tools, and remedies. The branches of the tree were great for bows, because they are very stress-tolerant and can bend before they break. Native Americans also made plenty of different tools out of this tree, from fishing nets to snow shoes to bowls and plates and various cutlery. The bark can also be boiled down to make tea that helps in treating colds. Native Americans called this the “basket tree” because native tribes would make intricate “long lasting” baskets using the elongated stems of the tree.