15 Varieties of Japanese Maple Trees With Colorful Foliage

Japanese maple tree with red fall color.

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Japanese maple trees (Acer palmatum and a few other species) are prized for their delicate and colorful foliage throughout the growing season, including during fall. Generally hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8, this tree is a smallish, slow-growing species, with mature heights of 4 to 30 feet, depending on cultivar. Although the tree blooms in spring, it is the delicate palmate leaves with 5, 7, or 9 toothed lobes that offer the real appeal. The foliage offers striking color throughout the growing season, becoming even more beautiful with the fall color change.

Most Japanese maples are suitable for USDA hardiness zones 5 to 8, though a few can brave zone 4 if planted in protected locations. Japanese maples should be planted if full to part sun and in well-drained soil. In zones 7 to 8, they can profit from the respite from the heat by planting them in an area with partial shade or dappled sunlight.

There are many recommended cultivars that produce the familiar red-colored foliage, but there are also cultivars that provide brilliant green or gold tones, and even a few that have bi-colored leaves. While there are many ways to classify Japanese maples, leaf color is a valuable way, since the color is the reason most people plant this tree.

Here is a broad selection of 15 great Japanese maples, including the range from red-, yellow-, green-, and variegated-leaved varieties.

  • 01 of 15

    Bloodgood' (Acer palmatum atropurpureum 'Bloodgood')

    My picture of Bloodgood Japanese maple shows its leaf color.
    Picture: Bloodgood Japanese maples are valued for their foliage color. David Beaulieu

    'Bloodgood' is one of the most popular Japanese maple cultivars. It achieves a maximum size of 20 feet tall with a similar spread, making it just the right size for patio landscaping. The leaves of 'Bloodgood' are reddish-purple in summer (but tend to green-up some in full sun). At fall foliage time, the leaves deepen into crimson red.

    In Japanese maples, the atropurpureum label on the Latin name refers to plants with dark reddish-purple foliage.

    Native Area: Japan, Korea, and China

    USDA Growing Zones: 5–8

    Height: 15–20 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

  • 02 of 15

    'Coonara Pygmy' (Acer palmatum 'Coonara Pygmy')

    Pygmy Japanese maple
    Pygmy Japanese Maple

    Mendocino Maples Nursery

    This dwarf cultivar grows only about 4 feet tall. Bright green spring leaves develop a yellowish cast in summer, then turn a deep pink red in fall. This plant was developed from a "witch's broom" deformity found on a Japanese maple growing in Australia.

    Native Area: Japan, Korea, China

    USDA Growing Zones: 6–9

    Height: 3–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

  • 03 of 15

    Crimson Queen' (Acer palmatum dissectum 'Crimson Queen')

    As my picture shows, Crimson Queen has a cascading habit. It's a type of Japanese maple.
    Photo: Crimson Queen has a cascading habit. David Beaulieu

    'Crimson Queen' is a small specimen, reaching a height of just 8 to 10 feet and a spread of 10 to 12 feet. This petite monarch will grace any lawn with its pleasing weeping habit and dissected leaf type. It has dark red summer leaves that mature to a crimson color. Fall color is often a combination of yellow, red, purple and bronze.

    When you see the dissectum label applied to the Latin name of a Japanese maple, it refers to foliage that is deeply cut, with a lacy texture. Such plants are sometimes referred to 'lacecut" or "threadleaf" maples.

    Native Area: Japan, Korea, China

    USDA Growing Zones: 5–8

    Height: 8–10 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

  • 04 of 15

    'Red Dragon' (Acer palmatum dissectum 'Red Dragon')

    'Red Dragon' Japanese maple
    'Red Dragon' Japanese maple

    Wilson Bros. Gardens

    'Red Dragon' is a smallish cultivar with reddish-purple foliage that transforms into bright crimson red in fall. This tree has an upright, pendulous growth habit and makes a spectacular mounding plant in the landscape.

    Native Area: Japan, Korea, China

    USDA Growing Zones: 5–8

    Height: 6–8 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    Continue to 5 of 15 below.
  • 05 of 15

    'Garnet' (Acer palmatum dissectum 'Garnet')

    'Garnet' Japanese maple
    'Garnet Japanese maple

    Missouri Botanical Garden

    'Garnet' is another lace-leaf Japanese maple with red leaves. The foliage remains reddish orange throughout the growing season, then fades to purplish green in late summer before turning bright red in fall. This cultivar grows to a mature height of 9 to 12 feet with a similar spread.

    Native Area: Japan, Korea, China

    USDA Growing Zones: 5–8

    Height: 9–12 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

  • 06 of 15

    Full moon maple (Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum')

    'Aureum' Japanese maple
    'Aureum' Japanese maple

    Wikicommons

    The 'Full Moon' cultivar of A. shirasawanum has showy bright yellow foliage rather than the bright green found in the species plant. The foliage gradually deepens to yellow-green in summer, then turns orange-red in fall. It often grows as a multi-stemmed shrub, but can also be trained with a single trunk as a small tree.

    Native Area: Japan

    USDA Growing Zones: 5–7

    Height: 16–20 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

  • 07 of 15

    Autumn Moon' (Acer shirasawanum 'Autumn Moon')

    'Autumn Moon' Japanese maple
    'Autumn Moon' Japanese maple

    Monrovia

    The 'Autumn Moon' cultivar of A. shirasawanum is one of the few Japanese maples that is hardy into the lower portions of USDA hardiness zone 4. It has a yellow-orange spring foliage that brightens into a chartreuse for summer, then turns a brilliant reddish-orange in the fall.

    Native Area: Japan

    USDA Growing Zones: 4–8

    Height: 6–10 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

  • 08 of 15

    'Beni-kawa' (Acer palmatum 'Beni-kawa')

    'Beni-Kawa' Japanese maple
    'Beni-Kawa' Japanese maple

    Ornamental Trees

    'Beni Kawa' is an A. palmatum cultivar that tops out at about 15 feet and is known for having colorful red bark. Soft green spring leaves gradually turn yellow-gold through summer and into fall. It is slow-growing, remaining under 7 feet tall until it is about 10 years old.

    Native Area: Japan, Korea, China

    USDA Growing Zones: 5–9

    Height: 12–15 feet

    Sun Exposure: 5–9

    Continue to 9 of 15 below.
  • 09 of 15

    'Coral bark maple (Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku')

    'Sango-kaku' Japanese maple
    'Sango-kaku' Japanese maple

    Missouri Botanical Garden

    Coral bark maple is a full-size cultivar, growing to 25 feet in height, though it is quite slow-growing. This is another cultivar with red bark that can provide good winter interest. The leaves are yellow-green then emerge, deepening into yellow-gold by fall. In the landscape, this tree should be positioned where the attractive winter bark can be appreciated.

    Native Area: Japan, Korea, China

    USDA Growing Zones: 5–8

    Height: 20–25 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

  • 10 of 15

    Cutleaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum dissectum 'Filigree')

    'Filigree' Japanese maple
    'Filigree' Japanse maple

    The Tree Center

    'Filigree' is a smallish cultivar of the A. palatum dissectum species. It has the familiar lacy leaves of others in the dissectum group, known collectively as "cutleaf" or "laceleaf" maples. The leaves are solid green through summer, turning golden in fall. The branches create a mounded shape with a cascading habit that may droop all the way to the ground.

    Native Area: Japan, Korea, China

    USDA Growing Zones: 5–8

    Height: 4–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

  • 11 of 15

    'Green Tea' (Acer palmatum 'Green Tea')

    The 'Green Tea' cultivar of A. palmatum has a unique leaf color similar to that of green tea. New spring growth begins as a stunning pink-red, laced with green veins. The leaves then age to dark green; fall color is orange and red. 'Green Tea' is a vigorous, upright maple that grows to 12 feet tall and 7 feet wide in about 10 years.

    Native Area: Japan, Korea, China

    USDA Growing Zones: 5–8

    Height: 10–12 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

  • 12 of 15

    'Butterfly' (Acer palmatum 'Butterfly')

    'Butterfly' Japanese maple
    'Butterfly' Japanese maple

    Missouri Botanical Garden

    'Butterfly' is perhaps the most common of all variegated A. palmatum cultivars. It is a shrubby tree with a rather irregular growth habit, but the green leaves have white margins and are often twisted in a manner unlike any other Japanese maples. The white portions of the leaves turn magenta or red in the fall. The unusual leaves make this an interesting bonsai plant.

    Native Area: Japan, Korea, China

    USDA Growing Zones: 5–8

    Height: 7–12 feet

    Sun Exposure: 5–8

    Continue to 13 of 15 below.
  • 13 of 15

    'Peaches and Cream' (Acer palmatum 'Peaches and Cream')

    Peaches and Cream' is a dense, shrubby cultivar that grows to about 10 feet and is sometimes wider than it is tall. It has variegated creamy-white leaves with dark green veins. The foliage turns yellow in fall. It is slow-growing and has been know to live as much as 60 years. Planted in a sheltered location, it is one of the few Japanese maples known to survive in Zone 4.

    Native Area: Japan, Korea, Cina

    USDA Growing Zones: 4–8

    Height: 8–10 feet

    Sun Exposure: 5–8

  • 14 of 15

    'First Ghost' (Acer palmatum 'First Ghost')

    'First Ghost' is a relatively small upright tree, topping out at about 7 feet wide with a 4-foot spread. In spring, cream-white leaves are tipped with red, with prominent dark green veins running throughout the leaves. In summer, the leaves shift to various shades of green, then turn yellow and orange in fall.

    Native Area: Japan, Korea, China

    USDA Growing Zones: 5–8

    Height: 10–12 feet

    Sun Exposure: 5–8

  • 15 of 15

    'Geisha Gone Wild' (Acer palmatum 'Geisha Gone Wild')

    'Geisha Gone Wild' Japanese Maple
    'Geisha Gone Wild' Japanese maple

    Conifer Kingdom

    'Geisha Gone Wild' is a sport of the popular 'Geisha', which itself was one of the most spectacular of all variegated Japanese maples. 'Geisha Gone Wild' is a larger, hardier plant than 'Geisha'. In spring, the new leaves are hot pink, then age to green with flecks of white and pink in summer, then change to spectacular orange in fall. It is a slow-grower, reaching 7 feet in about 10 years (roughly 1 foot taller than 'Geisha').

    Native Area: Japan, Korea, China

    USDA Growing Zones: 5–8

    Height: 5–7 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade