Acer triflorum, three-flower maple, is perhaps our favorite tree for fall color in the arboretum, but I am getting ahead of myself. Acer triflorum is a 2022 Secrest Select tree based on its excellent performance in the arboretum. This maple is a small tree, maturing between 20-30’ tall and wide with beautiful tan, exfoliating bark, which gives the tree multi-season interest. The tree is considered slow growing by some, yet in our experience it grows relatively fast when compared to other small maples.
The species name, triflorum, comes from the fact that three (tri) flowers (florum) are born in each floral cluster. The flowers, which are chartreuse to lime green, are a beautiful sight in the spring. In addition, the leaves also bear this same three characteristic, having three leaflets per leaf (trifoliate). The leaves are dark green in the summer with few disease or insect issues. Fall color is reliably deep red to blazing orange.
You might be concerned about this plant because it is a maple and you are familiar with how maples tend to seed, producing large amounts of samara in the spring which then litter your lawn and gutters. While Acer triflorum will produce samaras, the quantity is much less than that of our red and silver maples. In addition, few of the seeds contain viable embryos. This is great news for the landscape, and terrible news for propagators. Acer triflorum is difficult to propagate but can be easily found in the trade.
Acer triflorum grows best in full sun in slightly acidic soils that are moist, but well drained. The tree is hardy to zone 4, thriving in sites from Maine to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Michael Dirr lists the tree as not suitable for a street tree. However, the tree is thriving on the High Line in New York City.