Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture

Acer truncatum ‘Fire Dragon’

Acer truncatum is known as the Shantung maple, Shandong maple, or Purpleblow maple. This Asian species is quite at home across a broad range of habitats and has performed admirably in the SFA Mast Arboretum. It is reported in many Chinese provinces and in Korea. It is very similar to Acer mono, which we also grow in our gardens. I have seen the species in the wild and in gardens in Jiangsu province. It preferred to make a home in moist mixedforest midslopes, and the tree is quite common in public parks, campuses, and gardens and is part of the landscape trade. The tree generally, but not always, makes a broad rounded form in the landscape. It can reach forty to forty five feet and is as broad as it is tall. Keith Johansson allowed us to use the image of the big century-old Shantung at Morris Arboretum Pennsylvania.

As a tree ages, the bark transitions from smooth to ridged vertically. The SFA Mast Arboretum has grown the straight species for some time. Texas A & M University has named the tree a Texas Superstar, and the species have been widely promoted across the state as a tough, alkaline tolerant species with good form and fall color.

‘Fire Dragon’ is a Keith Johansson creation. Keith is a maplephile who runs Metromaples in Fort Worth, Texas. In one of the most unlikely maple spots in the world, Keith has made maples a happy home. In spite of alkalinity, heat, and water quality issues, Keith is still moving the bar up a notch or two in the maple world.

‘Fire Dragon’ is being promoted as a vigorous, heat tolerant Shantung maple with reliable red fall color. That’s good enough for me. To be honest, our experience with the Shantung maple in our gardens and this region hasn’t been all that good. On occasion, the species can be less than dazzling in the fall, depending on the tree or the site or both. On the other hand, go a little further west and I’ve seen Shantungs in Dallas, Waco, and other western spots that really were blessed with good fall color. Another reason perhaps for the extra scrutiny is here in East Texas, there are just so many other great maples that can challenge the Shantung maple (red maple, chalk maple, Caddo maple, Florida maple, Japanese maples, etc.). That’s not true further west. We’re talking serious color in the fall. So, a good Shantung cultivar makes sense and Fire Dragon may be just the ticket. We have several ‘Fire Dragons” planted in the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden, and we have Keith’s ‘Skinny Dragon’ form as well. We think the plant is a strong full sun to part shade candidate for a wide swath of the south. As for cultivars, there are few. Most of what is out there are seedlings. We have ‘Akikaze Nishiki’, which is nice tree blessed with a slightly uninspired leaf variegation, a “here it is, no it’s not” chimera.