Japanese maples are generally small to medium sized deciduous trees 20-30' tall, or can be low shrubs (the lace leaf and dwarf cultivars anyway). Generally single stemmed but branching low. Habit is variable depending on the cultivar but for the most part they are rounded with ever finer and finer branches till the twigs are wispy thin. This one is in a summer home in Rio Del Mar.
The leaves, oppositely arranged on the stems, are palmately lobed. (Hence the name, too bad they didn't name the full moon maple palmatum and this one japonicum.) Leaves are 1.5-2" long and wide with 5-7 lobes. Lobes are variably deep, some are about half way, and others are almost all the way to the attachment point. The lobes are lightly toothed. Leaf color is green but with hundreds of cultivars available you can find gold, green, purple and variegated, and that is just the summer color.
One of the most beautiful times of the year to see Japanese maples is in the spring. Spring color can be coral or green or green with red margins or purple or or or and so it goes. Seriously, the green is amazing in itself.
This one is 'Aka Shigitatsu Sawa'.
Flowers are small, reddish and may not be obvious. Fruit is what is called a samara. Perhaps also called a schizocarp of 2 samaras. Fruit can be red in summer or not.
The branching habit and winter silhouette puts the final exclamation point on the total seasonality of this species. Some are more than spectacular.
If you have a cultivar in your yard with red or dissected leaves watch for the seedlings that come up, you will find many new shapes and colors, what a joy.
It is so hard to pick one maple, that I am growing almost 20 in containers. These are not mine but a local maple fanatic in Soquel.
Speaking of containers, you can always bonsai them and have hundreds.
One of the more common cultivars here is 'Sangu kaku' with coral red winter stems. We will cover this one on it's own sometime. This image was taken during the winter at a local nursery.
And finally, but I will talk about more some other time, this is 'Butterfly' in a row.