Acer skutchii – the Rare Mexico Mountain Sugar Maple

Dave Creech

While sugar maple enjoys a sizeable market in the U.S and many cultivars are available, the Mexico mountain sugar maple or skutch maple, Acer saccharum ssp. skutchii, remains relatively unknown. This disjunct wing of sugar maple has endured over 9000 years of divergent evolution apart from relatives in eastern North America (4).  The tree is similar in many respects to Acer saccharum, sugar maple, and Acer saccharum var. floridanum (syn. A. barbatum), the Florida maple, but features larger leaves, and perhaps the biggest samaras found in Aceraceae.  The skutch maple offers opportunities for enhanced growth rate, interesting fall and spring foliage color, alkalinity tolerance, drought tolerance and good adaptation to well drained sunny locations in landscapes of the southern USA, east to west.  Dirr lists 47 varieties of sugar maple in the industry (1).  None include the diverse genetics of this western relative, the skutch maple…

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Acer palmatum – The Aristocrat of Small Trees

Dave Creech

We’ve been growing Japanese maples at SFA Gardens since the mid-1980s and now have over 350 varieties scattered over 16 acres of part shade garden. In 1988, the Arboretum was a small patch of ground next to the Agriculture building.  It wasn’t long before a six-acre bottomland thicket next to LaNana creek was added.  The opportunity to evaluate plants exploded.


img_7692 The Japanese maple collection in the Ruby Mize Garden under high canopy pines

One of the first on the list was Japanese maples.  Keep in mind that, at that time, Japanese maples were relatively uncommon in nurseries or landscapes in Texas.  When encountered, Japanese maples were either seedlings of unknown parentage, ‘Bloodgood’ or ‘Atropurpureum’, the latter being a tree type red leafed seedling.  That was about it.  Well, I found Dell’s Japanese maples (Junction City, Oregon) and a box of 50 small grafted bare-root plants soon arrived – 50 varieties, each…

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Dave Creech


In an attempt to organize all the Botanical Gardens, Arboreta and Public Gardens and Parks under a single umbrella – the Texas Association of Botanical Gardens was created in 1991. The individuals behind the formation of the organization were Paul Cox (retired from the San Antonio Botanical Garden), Henry Painter (Fort Worth Botanical Garden), Linda Gay (retired from the Mercer Arboretum, now at Arborgate) and Dave Creech (SFA Gardens). An agreement was reached that the TABGA would have no by-laws, no committees could be created, and there would be only one annual meeting per year – and the host for each annual meeting had to cover all the costs. Since those early days, annual meetings, usually in February, have been well attended – and provide Directors and staff the opportunity to get together, review the past year, and share in…

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Final Batches of Japanese Black Pine Seedling Cuttings

Bonsai Workshop

The seeds I planted late winter had a really good sprouting rate, therefore, I have 30+ seedlings to be made into seedling cuttings. I proceeded to make the seedling in batches. The first batch was done three weeks ago, last week was the second batch, and today, I did the final batch. I did it in batches because some seed sprouted faster than others. I begin making them into cuttings soon after the second set of leaves came out, and the stem take on a reddish tone. The pots used to plan these cutting seedlings were all obtained free of charge from my local Lowes. It’s wonderful that they have a pot recycle program where other gardeners dump their pots. I had to cut down some of the pots such that they’re not too tall. Below are my second batch of black pines. As you can see, many of the…

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Defoliate The Japanese Maple

Bonsai Workshop

Since I trunk chopped the Japanese Maple late winter, the tree has filled in nicely. I noticed the leaves are much larger than last year’s. It could be due the heavy fertilizing. I can also see many of the branches extending quickly. There were so much foliage, little to no light were reaching the inner parts of the tree.

Japanese Maple Filled in Nicely

In order to promote back budding, and to enhance ramification, I’ve decided to partially defoliate the tree. I didn’t want to fully defoliate the tree, because I believe I’ve done enough abuse to it for one year. I don’t want to risk killing the tree. I’ve cut off all but the tips of the tree. When cutting off the leaves, it is crucial to keep the leave stalk in tact. The base of the stalk is where the new leaves will emerge.

Japanese Maple Defoliated

Here are all the leaves that were cut off.

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Defoliation of Japanese Maple

Bonsai Workshop

Over Spring time, I have been pinching out new growth on this Japanese Maple in hopes to shorten the internodes, and hopefully even promote some back budding. There were a few buds that formed, but there were still some very long internodes formed. Fortunately, at the same nodes for which the long internodes extended from, there were often other buds formed. The leaves formed at Spring time have a reddish tinge to it. As the leave hardens, it turns to fully green. Some initial wiring can be done here to ensure the new branches don’t push straight up.

Jap Maple Wired

By the end of Spring, the foliage on the tree was getting quite dense, as a result, no sunlight is able to reach the inner parts of the tree. With no light reaching the branches, no new buds will develop. The leaves are very large as well. This is often the case…

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