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Paperbark Maple

Acer griseum

Accession Number
The alpha-numeric value assigned to a plant when it is added to the living collection as a way of identifying it.
Accession Date
The year the plant’s accession number was assigned.
Common Name
The non-scientific name for the plant.
Scientific Name
The scientific name describes the species of an organism. The first word is the plant's scientific genus and the second is the specific epithet. This two-word binomial is sometimes followed by other taxonomic descriptors, including subspecies (denoted by "ssp."), variety (denoted by "var."), form (denoted by "f." or "forma"), and cultivar (denoted by single quotation marks).
Plant Family
The family to which the plant belongs.
Propagation Material
The first part (material code) describes the material used to create the plant. The most common codes are "SD" (seed), "EX" (existing plant), "PT" (plant), "CT" (cutting), "SC" (scion), "SG" (seedling), and "GR" (graft). The second part describes the lineage the plant is derived from. The last part describes the year of propagation.
Collection Data
The first part indicates provenance (place or source of origin) using a letter code ("W" = wild, "G" = garden, "Z" = indirect wild, "U" = uncertain). The second part lists the plant source. For wild-collected material, the collector, collection number, and country are given.
The location of the plant on the landscape.
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Acer griseum
PT - LINEAGE 12488
WILSON, E. H. 719
Paperbark Maple

The paperbark maple is endangered in its native China. The Arboretum has been active in its conservation for more than a century.

Paperbark maple is an iconic Chinese species. It’s admired for its luminous, copper-colored bark, compact structure, and stunning fall color. Despite the rarity of this tree in the wild, it has become a common highlight among public gardens and parks throughout the temperate world Temperate world: Latitudes of Earth between subtropics and the polar circles, typically with moderate average temperatures. .

The species was first introduced in the United States and Europe by plant explorer Ernest Henry Wilson. He sent seed from Hubei Province to an English nursery in 1901.

This tree, accession 12488*B, was collected on a follow-up expedition for the Arnold Arboretum in 1907. During that expedition, Wilson dug two seedlings from a woodland north of Yichang and shipped them to the Arboretum. Both seedlings thrived. The second tree from that 1907 expedition grows on the edge of the primary maple collection, near the Bradley Rosaceous Collection . They are now considered among the oldest of their kind growing outside of China.

For years, paperbark maples cultivated in the United States were all descended from Wilson’s early 20th century introductions. This made the trees more susceptible to pest or disease outbreaks and less likely to survive in varied climates. So, in 1994, Arboretum collector Peter Del Tredici collaborated with colleagues from other botanical gardens to reintroduce this species from China.

The species was the target of an expedition to Hubei with the North America-China Plant Exploration Consortium—or NACPEC. One of the collectors, Paul Meyer, would later write of the successful expedition that “of the many hundreds of plants I have observed and collected in China, none were more exciting than finding a grove of wild paperbark maple.”

The paperbark maple is now endangered in its native China. That designation makes it even more essential to grow and safeguard wild-collected specimens in places like the Arnold Arboretum, where we keep precise records about the native habitat. Intentional cultivation of an endangered species outside of its native habitat is known as ex situ conservation Ex situ conservation: The process of protecting a species outside of its natural habitat. .

In 2015, NACPEC partners embarked on a plant collecting trip aimed at sampling many of the known populations of paperbark maple in China. The collectors’ zigzagging route covered over 2,200 miles. Trees from that expedition are currently growing in the Arboretum’s nursery.

Visiting the Arboretum’s landscape with your family to see this tree for yourself? Download a printable guide in English or Spanish.

Click here to read a transcript of the audio segment below.

Arboretum scientist Peter Del Tredici collected a newer accession of paperbark maple, 767-94*A, on a mountainside in central China. Hear the story below.

Viewing this plant in-person? Look for these defining characteristics:

  • 1
    A closeup of the male flowers of the paperbark maple. They're light green, hang pointing down, with small leaves
    Male (pollen-producing) and hermaphrodite flowers. William (Ned) Friedman
  • 2
    Light green winged seeds of the paperbark maple hang from a branch
    Winged seeds, known as samaras. William (Ned) Friedman
  • 3
    The bark of the paperbark maple shines in the sun, it's a deep copper color with waves
    Copper-colored bark. William (Ned) Friedman
  • 4
    Autumn foliage of the paperbark maple is bright red
    Autumn foliage. Jon Hetman

About Our Collection

Fun Facts

  • The Arnold Arboretum is home to the two oldest specimens of paperbark maple in North America, collected in China as seedlings and planted in 1907.

  • Like most species of maples, paperbark maple has complicated gender systems in its flowers. This species is “trioecious,” meaning that a single tree may have male (pollen-producing) flowers, female (seed-producing) flowers, and hermaphrodite flowers.

  • The Arnold Arboretum has an extensive collection of maples (Acer spp.), containing 141 of the approximately 230 botanical taxa from around the world. Because of its diverse and numerous holdings of wild-collected maples, the Arnold Arboretum is designated as one of the Plant Collection Network’s maple collection sites.

  • This species’ luminous peeling bark is best experienced in winter on sunny days–a reminder that visiting the Arnold Arboretum in the winter can be just as dramatic as in the spring, summer, or fall.

  • Paperbark maple frequently exhibits parthenocarpy, or the production of fruit without the prior process of fertilization, resulting in fruits lacking viable seeds. This species is especially difficult to propagate for this reason.


Living Specimens
Specimens Dead or Removed
First Addition
Most Recent Addition
Tallest Specimen

Living Specimens

Plant ID Accession Date Received As Origin Source

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