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NOTES FROM SFA Gardens

By David Creech, Ph.D.

Fabulous Fall Foliage

Is There Life Beyond Japanese Maples? JUST

A

FEW

DAYS

BEFORE

Thanksgiving I was convinced that fall color at SFA Gardens might be a bust. Then Thanksgiving arrived, I went on vacation, and the Japanese maples suddenly decided it was fireworks time. Our Facebook friends began posting views and vistas, and by the time I returned, the place was at peak show, going from zero to 60 mph in three days. Tim Howell, an avid gardener, photographer, plant enthusiast, and garden booster, kindly let us share with you one of his best images. For a small tree in part shade, it’s hard to beat the red, maroon, orange, yellow, pink, salmon, and burgundy hues of Japanese maple foliage. In the varietal world, there’s every kind of form, leaf size and shape, and trunk and branching pattern. There’s little doubt that Japanese maples are the stars of the fall here at SFA Gardens. In our region, these long-lived small

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TNLA Green January/February 2019

Parrotia subaequalis

trees find high canopy pines a perfect environment. For full sun in Texas, however, Japanese maples are usually a poor choice. Even in our region of East Texas, these are understory superstars. Yes, there are exceptions, and a good palmate bold leaf variety is better than a cut leaf if you absolutely must try a full-sun spot. Bigtooth, red, Florida, and chalk maples are better choices for full sun in our region. There are several varieties of trident and Shantung maple that are stunning. If you think about it, there are just too few non-maples in the 20- to 30foot category that shout fall color. Sure, some crapes have good fall color. I’ve seen dogwoods to die for. I love Lindera glauca, but it’s rarely encountered, and I’m a lonely fan club member. Chinese pistache (Plant a male, please.) can be stunning, but let’s face it, it’s ultimately a big tree.

Parrotia subaequalis unpruned form

For the smaller tree niche, that 20to 30-foot crowd, we consider Parrotia persica, Persian ironwood, a tragically underutilized small tree. Given a welldrained, sunny spot, this deciduous tree is long lived, provides great bark interest, and the tree carries a cloak of canary yellow to butterscotch foliage in the fall. Yes, the spring flowers are tragically small (Bring a hand lens.), but they’re pretty and interesting up close. While the tree can be trained as a standard with a single trunk, it’s most commonly used as a multistem tree with lower branches cut away as the tree ages to display the muscular branching and exfoliating bark. The rule of thirds is a good idea. While canary to butterscotch yellow in the fall is great, everyone knows a bright red would have an immediate fan club. In a 2012 article (www.nurs erymag.com/article/nm1212-persianironwood-plants), Michael Dirr ap-

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TNLA Green January/February 2019  

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