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Acer circinatum

Family: Aceraceae
Pronounced: A-ser sir-sin-Ah-tum


Geographic Origin:
Pacific Northwest
Plant Group:
Sunset zones: 1-6, 14-17.
USDA zones: 6-9.
Heat zones: 9-4.
Mature size:
Height: 15 feet (5 m).
Width: 20 feet (6 m).
Flowering period:
Flowering attributes:
Umbels of reddish purple sepals and white petals make up the small flowers, followed by winged red fruits.
Leaf attributes:
Seven to nine-lobed palmate leaf of light green. Turns red to orange in fall.
Shade to full sun.
Moist, humus rich soil.
Propagation Methods:
Sow seed when ripe and place in cold frame.
Pruning Methods:
Prune in late autumn to mid winter.

Rainy Side Notes

In autumn, our native Vine maple brightens up our mountain passes with brilliant fall color. It is even better when it brightens up our own gardens. The color can vary; it is recommended you choose it in autumn when you can view its fall color.

Vine maples are important trees for wildlife. They provide nesting flower sites and cover for many birds and mammals. The vireo often weave basket-like nests that hang in the forks of the branches. Birds use the seed stalks and leaves for nest building. As a food source, squirrels, chipmunks and birds eat the seeds. The caterpillars of the Brown tissue and Polyphemus moths forage on the leaves of their host plant.


The Quinault tribe's word for maple is maxo' atcalnix, meaning the basket tree. Both the Quinault and Makah took advantage of the long flexible shoots from the trees to make baskets for hauling wood, clams and fish. In addition, the Quinault used the wood for fires and mixed the charcoal with oil to make a black paint. Chehalis, Lummi, Quileute and Quinault utilized the vine maple to make fish traps. The tree was employed to hold down roof planks on houses. From saplings, the Skagit tribe made swings for baby cradles and salmon tongs. Modesse and Shuswap tribes weaved snowshoes out of the shoots.

Clallams dried the sap to eat and possibly ate it fresh. My favorite of all the uses were by the Karok in California, where the women made a love potion out of the branches. Where is that recipe? Other medicinal purposes* were for diarrhea and polio.

In the Garden

As a small tree or large bush, it makes an exceptional landscape tree for a small garden. The leaves are similar to some of the Japanese maples, making them a popular choice for Northwest gardens. They can grow in full sun provided they receive extra irrigation. I have several growing in my own garden; I would not be without one.

Photographed in author's garden.

Rainy Side Gardeners —