Best fall (autumn) color trees and shrubs

This is an illustrated guide to the best species and varieties of  trees and shrubs for fall color, arranged under genus and species in alphabetical order. For each variety it includes notes on identification, frequency in cultivation, location of photo, distribution in the wild and other notes. My name is John Richards. I believe that autumn-coloring trees and shrubs have an unrivalled impact on color and form in the garden and park and I have been collecting photographs of trees and shrubs in spectacular fall colour for more than a decade. As a botanist (Emeritus Professor at Newcastle, UK) I am interested in the correct names and classification of the plants portrayed. I am also concerned with their identification, those which have the most colourful autumn display, and those UK public gardens, arboreta and parks which have the best collections. This is essentially a collection of my photographs, labelled with what the owners considered to be the correct names and the location of the plant. It is organised alphabetically, by genus and then by species. You may be interested that I have another (nearly weekly) blog on the Alpine Garden Society website under 'Northumberland Diary'.

Tip: try clicking on each image and then scrolling to give high quality image and text reproduction.


Acers are maples and include the (English) sycamores. They range from shrubs to large trees and occur throughout the temperate parts of the northern hemisphere. They are deciduous, and most have very spectacular autumn colour, which is the main reason that they are popular in most collections of temperate trees. Many prefer a sheltered site and an acidic soil. In the spring they bear male and female flowers separately. Male flowers are often attractively coloured with conspicuous stamens. Female flowers already have the shape of the winged fruit (samara) that they will form later on. These are dispersed in the wind with a propeller action.

Acer campestre. Field Maple. A shrub or small tree native to the UK and Europe which makes an excellent shelter belt or hedge and produces golden colours in autumn. Dunster Castle, Somerset,UK.

Acer campestre. RHS garden, Wisley, UK.

Acer capillipes is one of the snake-bark maples, and makes a usually many-stemmed small to medium-sized tree with excellent orange autumn colour. It originates from Japan. Authors garden, Hexham UK.

Acer capillipes has very attractively marked green bark. This makes an attractive winter feature. It is closely related to two other Chinese species, A. davidii and A. rufiverve, but differs in leaf shape. Authors garden, Hexham, UK.

Acer cappadocicum forms a medium-sized to quite large tree with a single trunk. It originates from Turkey, the Caucasus and eastwards and is related to Norway Maple A. platanoides, but has more acuminate but less pointed leaf-lobes. Most years it has excellent yellow autumn colour. Hexham, UK.

Acer cappadocicum, RHS Garden, Wisley, UK.

Acer circinatum (Vine Maple) forms a small to small-medium tree usually with a single stem. The leaves are rather circular in shape and have 6-9 lobes of about equal length. Male flowers are white, contrasting with red bud scales.The autumn colour is excellent, and often varied, as in the present photograph from The Garden House, Devon, UK. Western North America, introduced into Europe by David Douglas.

Acer crataegifolium 'Veitchii'. This variegated form of a western north American species forms a small multistemmed tree and has very early autumn colour. It also has attractive greenish striped bark and coral-red twigs in spring. Authors garden, Hexham UK.

Acer griseum is very variable, but at its best is one of the finest small trees, with brilliant red autumn colour. It originates from central China. It can only be propagated from seed, and seed from solitary trees is sterile. It is necessary to choose seed from a group of trees. Authors garden, Hexham, UK.

Acer griseum leaves. Authors garden, Hexham, UK.

Acer griseum has peeling reddish bark which in the best forms is very beautiful, especially in winter, earning the name 'Paper-bark Maple'. Authors garden, UK.

Acer henryi is a small to medium-sized tree from central China. The ovate-lanceolate leaflets are borne in threes, but appear to be solitary as each has a long petiolule. The leaves often turn a distinctive purple-red in autumn. Kew, UK. Photographed at Kew, UK.

Acer japonicum is one of the most popular of the autumn-coloured maples, but is planted less than A. palmatum. Both originate from Japan, but A. japonicum has more complex leaves in which the lobes themselves are deeply incised. There are several varieties grown, but the most popular are 'Aconitifolium' (here) in which the leaves colour red, and 'Vitifolium' in which they colour orange. Holker Hall, Cumbria.

Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium'. Thorpe Perrow, Yorkshire.

Acer japonicum 'Vitifolium'. Thorpe Perrow, Yorkshire.

Acer japonicum 'Vitifolium' close. Thorpe Perrow, Yorkshire.

Acer longipes ssp. amplum is a widespread Chinese relative of A. palmatum which is rarely grown in cultivation. It tends to be a bigger, leggier tree than A. palmatum, and usually colours yellow. Photograph from Kew, UK.

Acer micranthum is a delightful shrub which rarely exceeds 5 m in height and spread. It originates from Japan and is distinguished by its leaf-shape. Like many Japanese maples it appreciates a great deal of shelter, where it reliably turns a firey colour in autumn. Authors garden, Hexham, UK.

Acer micranthum. Knightshayes, Devon.

Acer monspessulanum, the Montpellier Maple is a semi-evergreen species from the Mediterranean regions of southern Europe where it is widespread, usually on limestone substrates. It requires hot dry conditions in summer to flourish and is not often grown in the UK. It is closely related to the ecologically more extreme and localised A. sempervirens from Crete and elsewhere which has scarcely lobed leaves and samaras which lie in the same plane (at 90 degrees in A. monspessulanum). Photo from Lambokambos, southern Greece.

Acer oliveranum is a relative of A. longipes, also from central China, but is a much smaller tree with cleanly lobed leaves rather like A. cappadocicum, and turns a good red in autumn. Kew, UK.

Acer opalus, Italian Maple, is a medium sized tree with a rounded crown which is best recognised by its scarcely and very bluntly lobed, rounded leaves. It comes from southern Europe, but is hardy through much of the UK and provides much better autumn colour than the sycamore. Kew, UK.

Acer palmatum

We come next to the best known of all the autumn-coloured maples, Acer palmatum. There are so many varieties of this grown, that it deserves its own page, which comes next.