Chinese maple vs Japanese maple – those are two well-known colorful trees that shed leaves in the autumn and are considered a symbol of fall or the high art of oriental gardens in many countries.
This deciduous tree family includes about 125 species, and Asian maple tree types are the most common, while there are some (such as sugar maple) growing naturally in Europe and North America.
Japanese maple and Chinese maple trees are in the same group since they share many things in common, yet there are some features separating them apart. If you are a maple enthusiast, let’s scroll down for more information!
What Are Chinese Maples?
Chinese maples or Chinese red maple trees refer to the plants that originated from China and Taiwan. They include many indigenous ones that need to be preserved.
The 46th volume of Flora of China describes Chinese red maple as a variant of Acer palmatum (Acer griseum – Chinese paperbark maple, for example) with 7 lobes, purple leaf color, and quite deep leaf lobes.
Their colors in autumn can put all their siblings to shame as their shade is even redder than red.
A name to mention among them is Oliver maples (Acer oliverianum), a hardy species mostly found in climate zones 7 to 9.
It can grow up to 15 to 30 feet tall. Its horizontal branches resemble those of the Japanese types.
Another common Chinese maple tree is the five-lobe maple (Acer pentaphyllum).
It also grows in climate zones 7 to 9 and can reach a height of 30 feet. Because it’s hard to find many specimens of five-lobe maples, the type is considered endangered.
What Are Japanese Maples?
Japanese maples belong to the red-line Acer palmatum (a type of deciduous shrub) with USDA plant hardiness zones from 5 to 9.
The plants are commonly seen across the hills in Japan, Korea, Russian, and Mongolia, wildly growing to the height of 20-35 feet (even 40-50 feet, sometimes).
Korean maple trees usually stand better in cold weather than the ones from Japan.
However, those cultivars may only reach 2-20 feet in height. It means their sizes are various such as miniature dwarf maples, shrubs, or small trees. And so do their shapes.
What does a Japanese maple look like? You can find it in different shapes, such as mounding, round, cascading, vase-like, upright, etc.
Japanese maple leaves are usually red or green (or both), ranging from 5 to 9 lobed leaves. In spring and summer, they are bright green.
Then in late summer and autumn, the green foliage with white and pink margins will obtain more diverse shades such as yellow, orange, and purple and come in various appearances such as wispy or lacy leaves, finely dissected or wide lobes.
Chinese Maple Vs Japanese Maple: Differences
Chinese maple trees vs Japanese maples belong to the same genus, yet they are still different in height, shape, colors, and living conditions.
The Japanese types are found to be in more various shades of colors (rather than only red) and shapes. Plus, they thrive better in partial shade and can grow stunt under direct sunlight due to sunburn.
Both Japanese and Chinese maple trees are perfect for landscape design, which might add more depth and vibrancy to white flowering plants like Gardenia or Jasmine.
However, the former is more available in types, shapes, and leaf sizes, giving you more options for your garden despite how much space you have.
For example, you can choose the dwarf cultivar in containers to beautify your living space. It’s also an ideal tree if you love the ancient art of bonsai.
Origins & Growing Preferences
As their names stated, one type originated from China and Taiwan, while the other is from Japan. There are few variants of the Chinese kind, yet you can find various versions of the other type.
Each is very different based on colors, leaf forms, and tree shapes. Some of the cultivars from maples found in Japan were collected, mixed, and developed and were given local identical cultivars’ names.
Meanwhile, there are others bred in America and Europe under English-sounding names. Some of them are very popular and are brought back to Japan.
Special Features and Fun Facts
Chinese maple bushes are usually red in the fall, while the Japanese maple colors are red, yellow, and orange, with purple flowers in spring.
The former’s natural form is usually a high and upright shape, whereas the other sibling varies in height (generally lower to much lower) and is not that upright.
Chinese maples have a reddish brown or cinnamon trunk; the older, the more purple-brown it is.
Their green or gray bark is larger than their siblings and comes in different shapes, such as rounded or weeping.
You can find Chinese maple leaves are bigger and green with silvery color on the underside, and in the tree version from Japan, they are smaller and feature a slight red on the edge and toothed margins.
The lobes are usually from 5 to 7 and 5 to 9, respectively.
The latter also offers more choices of beautiful colors. For example, the non-dissected mature leaves of the ‘Bloodgood’ are red, whereas those of the dissected ‘Waterfall’ cultivar is golden in the autumn.
Both types of trees can live in an environment that combines light shade and light exposure (in the early morning) for a minimum of four hours per day.
Red maples are heat resistant and can survive and thrive under the condition of exposure to direct sunlight, meaning the light will come to them directly from the sun without any medium filters.
The sunshine, especially in hot summers, is the condition for the trees to produce food to live and bear flowers.
It’s possible for them to survive in some shade, too. However, they may experience stunted growth or root rot due to residing in partial-shade and colder climates.
On the other hand, maples that originated from Japan are quite the opposite.
They can put up with and can adapt to the dappled shade, filtered or indirect light (like grow light), and even grow stronger in partial-shade locations. The exposure provides enough photons for the root systems and the photosynthesis process.
Still, they are susceptible to leaf death and stunted growth due to exposure to direct sun.
That’s why sometimes, you may see narrow Japanese maple trees, indicating they are not grown in full sun. So, they need more sunbath and liquid fertilizer monthly as well.
Fun fact: The name Acer palmatum, meaning hand, is given by the Swiss botanist and doctor Carl Peter Thunberg based on their leaves’ shape, while sometimes the tree is called Momiji in the original language, which means the hand of a baby.
Since you want the plants to lighten your garden, no matter what type you choose.
You should grow them where they can be seen and enjoyed in any season. Plus, you should place them where they have enough space to grow.
If you want to have small Japanese maples, you may not need much room, and you can grow your maples in containers.
However, should you prefer Chinese plants, it’s better to provide them with ample space and watch out for any power lines around.
They also require deep and regular watering and full sun to grow with full color.
Moreover, as discussed above, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 7 – 9 are ideal conditions for Chinese maples, and zones 5 – 9 are for the Japanese maple variety, such as Acer elegantulum, that are heat tolerant.
Moderate to well-drained soil (since they can’t tolerate poorly drained, waterlogged soil) and removing the individual branches are necessary.
Due to their shade preference, you’d better grow Chinese maples in gentle shades and provide them with enough or extra water to avoid shriveling, shedding leaves, and dead branches in hot weather.
Which Is Better?
If you are a bonsai enthusiast or prefer dissected leaves, multiple color variants, and diverse attractive forms, the plants from Japan are for you.
However, if you have a larger space and love the red shade, go for the Chinese variant. It will take all the spotlight from your garden.
Chinese maple vs Japanese maple. Those are both ideal beautiful trees for your landscape decoration thanks to their extraordinary autumn colors.
They have a slow-to-medium growth rate, be patient and remember their preferred growing conditions, so you’ll have a great garden as you wish.