Japanese Maple Tree Photography

Japanese maple tree photos are some of my best selling images as a fine art landscape and nature photographer. Trees are one of my favourite subjects to photograph, as they command my attention and respect as living, breathing pillars of life. And with over 73,000 documented species around the world, it would seem an impossible task to choose an outright favourite.

But if I was to base my choice on a group that consistently turns heads with their spectacular colours, dignified beauty, elegance, and storied history, it would have to be the Japanese maple tree.

A Japanese maple tree with twisting branches of orange leaves in Butchart Gardens, British Columbia, Canada.
'Dreamweaver', Butchart Gardens, British Columbia. Limited Edition of 150. This stately laceleaf maple is over 100 years old, one of the first to be planted in Butchart Gardens. Click the image to view print options.
A large framed photograph of a Japanese maple tree hangs on the wall in a modern living room with orange leather sofa.
'Dreamweaver', Charity Edition Lumachrome® TruLife® acrylic print with Roma® Tabacchino Dark Ash frame and black linen liner combination. The choice of framing perfectly compliments the surrounding woodwork and furniture.

Here you will find a selection of fine art Japanese maple photos from my collection, all captured in various gardens on beautiful Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada along with some interesting history and details about these fascinating trees.

The 'Acer Palmatum'

The Japanese maple or 'acer palmatum' is native to Japan, Korea, and China with some specimens also found in eastern Mongolia and southeast Russia. Swedish doctor and botanist Carl Peter Thunberg travelled to Japan in the late 18th century and named the maples 'palmatum' because the leaves resembled a hand, similar to the Japanese names 'kaede' (frog's hand) and 'momiji' (babies hand).

Detailed view of a Japanese maple tree branch in autumn with bright red foliage at Butchart Gardens in British Columbia.
'Moulin Rouge', Butchart Gardens, British Columbia. Limited Edition of 100. This tree is a variety of 'pine bark' maple, due to its distinctive bark which is similar to a pine tree, while most Japanese maples have smooth bark. Click the image to view print options.
A panoramic photographic print of a red maple tree hangs on the wall of a seaside home.
'Moulin Rouge', Lumachrome® TruLife® frameless acrylic print. The panoramic shape of the print matches the scale of the wall, combined with some smaller plants which give this space an open, airy and organic feel.

Cultivated in Japan for centuries, many travelers and botanists began to collect specimens and import them overseas where they became very popular with gardeners. As a result, thousands of new cultivars and variations have been grown in temperate areas of Europe and North America since the 1800's.

A small Japanese maple tree with orange leaves and mossy groundcover in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
'Nitro', Butchart Gardens, British Columbia. Limited Edition of 100. Click the image to view print options.
A photographic print of a small Japanese maple tree hangs on the wall in a modern living room.
'Nitro' as a frameless Lumachrome® TruLife® acrylic print. It's easy to blend a print into your décor with accessories like throw pillows and area rugs with colours that compliment the print.

The Maple Society is an international community of expert and amateur maple enthusiasts dedicated to furthering the knowledge and promoting the culture of all maple species. A membership for this UK based non-profit group provides a wealth of benefits and networking opportunities for all lovers of maple trees, and also includes a North American division.

Forms and Leaf Types

Japanese maples are a highly diverse species with a large variety of forms, including upright, vase, weeping, cascading, dwarf, and shrub cultivars ranging from 1.5 to 52 feet tall. An impressive assortment of leaf shapes and colours give them dramatic appeal, as many varieties have red or purple leaves all summer which make them beautiful focal points in any garden.

Four different types of leaves from Japanese maple trees.
A small example of leaf shapes found on Japanese maple trees. © Abrahami, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons.

These charming maples are the most desirable and sought after garden trees due to the enormous range of sizes and colours that are sure to compliment almost any yard, even if you have space restrictions.

Collage of eight different photographs of different coloured Japanese maple leaves.
There is a tree for every garden with an endless variety of sizes, leaf shapes, and spectacular colours.

Autumn is when most Japanese maples really shine, as their canopies transform into stunning shades of orange, red, and yellow. The weeping Japanese cutleaf maple (below, also called laceleaf) has very delicate and feathery leaves which are 'dissected' and divided into segments.

A Japanese laceleaf maple tree in full orange fall color.
This stunning laceleaf maple with the classic domed canopy is a real head-turner at peak colour in autumn.

Rarely growing more than twelve feet tall, these laceleaf varieties have a distinct dome-shaped canopy and multiple twisting, rhythmic branches that have become synonymous with oriental gardens. The window is short to capture these magnificent trees at peak autumn colour, where many specimens can turn from full green to vibrant orange in less than one week.

Most Japanese maples have multiple trunks that join close to the ground, as seen on this upright broom-shaped specimen (above). Most species look especially impressive when they are planted on slopes or near ponds where their canopies are easier to admire with a layering effect and beautiful reflections in the water.

Branches of red maple leaves hang in front of a gently cascading waterfall on Vancouver Island, Canada.
'Tranquility', Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Limited Edition of 150. Click the image to view print options.
A large triptych print of a red maple tree hangs over a long dining room table in a modern home.
'Tranquility', Lumachrome® TruLife® acrylic 60"x120" triptych print. Large oversized prints make a dramatic statement and have the power to transform a room.

Maples are known to be incredibly variated, where they can exhibit different leaf shapes and colours even compared to their parent tree. They tend to be very slow-growing at less than 12" to 24" per year while being very long-lived, often with a life span of 100 years or more.

The sun shines through the canopy of orange leaves on an old Japanese maple tree in Victoria, British Columbia.
'Radiance', Victoria, British Columbia. Limited Edition of 150. Click the image to view print options.

This statuesque cutleaf maple (above) has been documented from its origins and was planted in 1913, making it almost 110 years old. Many hours were spent with my camera beneath this tree over the course of two days, admiring its form and waiting for the perfect lighting conditions to illuminate the stunning orange canopy.

The story of its long life is fascinating, offering beauty to visitors for over a century. The delicate twisting branches are some of the most beautiful I have seen, and give this wonderful tree a distinct personality and sense of historic and noble permanence.

A large framed photograph of a Japanese maple tree hangs in a bedroom over a shelf.
'Radiance', Charity Edition Lumachrome® TruLife® acrylic print with a Roma® Tabacchino Dark Ash frame and black linen liner combination.

Closeup view of the pink and green colors of Japanese maple leaves in autumn.
'Niji', Butchart Gardens, British Columbia. Limited Edition of 50. The variated colouring of this laceleaf maple reminded me of a rainbow. 'Niji' means 'rainbow' in Japanese. Click the image to view print options.

Above, a close-up of this 'Baby Lace' variety shows the delicate, dissected leaves in its pink and green spring colours, which turn mostly green in summer, and finally to orange, red, or yellow in the fall.

An abstract photograph of Japanese maple leaves hangs on the wall over a modern bathtub.
'Niji', as a ChromaLuxe® HD waterproof metal print which are perfect for high humidity areas like bathrooms. Abstract subjects like these beautiful leaves create a calming atmosphere for contemplation.

Where They Grow

In their natural environment, Japanese maples often grow in the understory of larger forest trees, making them quite shade tolerant. As a result they tend to grow best in locations with partial shade and adequate water, as too much heat and sun can cause the leaves to shrivel.

Arashiyama in autumn season along the river in Kyoto, Japan.
Colourful Japanese maples grow in Arashiyama along the river in Kyoto, Japan.

They make a wonderful addition to almost any yard or garden, but if you have limited space, it is also possible to grow them in pots as they are easy to keep small with simple pruning methods.

And for those who are more adventurous, Japanese maples are perfect to grow as Bonsai. This ancient Japanese artform grows miniature trees in pots that mimic the shape of full size trees.

Two examples of Japanese maple Bonsai trees.
These incredible maple Bonsai trees are living works of art.

The west coast of British Columbia is a popular region in Canada where Japanese maple trees are able to thrive, due to the temperate Pacific climate. If you have considered planting a Japanese maple in your yard or garden, it is important to know that most species grow best in plant hardiness zones 5 through 8.

Note that the Canadian and USDA Plant Hardiness Zone maps do not line up perfectly, and are both based on imperfect systems, therefore should be interpreted as a general guide only.

A colour coded plant hardiness zone map of Canada.
The Canadian Plant Hardiness Zone map. Click the map to view larger.

There are a few varieties that will grow in a colder zone 4, and some into zone 9. As a safeguard, it is always best to consult with an experienced local botanist who can give you a better idea if your chosen plant species can survive and thrive in your area of the country.

A colour coded plant hardiness zone map of the United States.
The United States Plant Hardiness Zone map. Click the map to view larger.

Although many maples grow best with partial shade, there are also some species that will also thrive in full sun.

Visit A Japanese Garden

Japanese gardens, which are deeply grounded in tradition and culture specific to Japan, have been featured in public places and estates in Canada since the early 1900's. The four oldest Japanese gardens in North America were all designed by Isaburo Kishida of Yokohama, a Japanese gardener who arrived in Victoria, British Columbia in 1907.

Two of these gardens still survive today, and both are National Historic Sites of Canada; the upper garden at Hatley Park in Victoria, and the Japanese section at Butchart Gardens north of Victoria.

Trees and shrubs in the Butchart Japanese garden near Victoria, British Columbia.
A diverse selection of symbolic trees and shrubs thrive in the understory of Butchart's Japanese Garden.

Other notable Japanese gardens in Canada include:

Nitobe Memorial Garden, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden, Lethbridge, Alberta

University of Alberta Botanic Garden, near Edmonton, Alberta

Montreal Botanical Garden, Montreal, Quebec

If you wish to visit a garden in the United States, here is a complete list of beautiful and historical Japanese gardens in America.

Japanese garden at Butchart Gardens near Victoria, British Columbia.
A variety of colourful maples and traditional stone lantern in the Butchart Japanese Garden.

Whether we visit them to experience their beauty or symbolism, Japanese gardens provide us with a place of refuge and reflection. Typical gardens include water ponds with carp or koi fish, ornamental rocks, stone lanterns, bridges, and specific plants and trees.

The delicate, feathery leaves of this laceleaf maple are simply breathtaking in autumn.

Each of these components have a symbolic significance, reinforcing values associated with harmony, rejuvenation, calm, unity, and the honouring of nature.

Maple Leaf Culture and Tradition

The Japanese maple has been viewed as a symbol of dignity, beauty, and grace for thousands of years in Japan. The trees and leaves have been prominent subjects of poetry and literature dating back to Heian times around the 8th century AD, when large collections of poetry from the time period were dedicated to autumn leaves.

A Japanese woodblock print entitled 'Poem by Sarumaru Dayū, from the series One Hundred Poems Explained by the Nurse', by artist Katsushika Hokusai, circa 1839.
'Poem by Sarumaru Dayū, from the series One Hundred Poems Explained by the Nurse', a woodblock print featuring symbolic Japanese maples by artist Katsushika Hokusai, circa 1839.

Maple leaves are commonly chosen as motifs in fabric for the national dress of Japan, the kimono. And in many parts of the country, the leaves are used as an edible snack. They are traditionally cured in a salt barrel for a year, then deep fried in batter for a crisp and sweet treat called momiji-tempura.

In Japan many citizens practice Shintoism, which can be regarded as a nature religion, with the belief that supernatural entities or spirits inhabit all things. A common custom called 'momiji-gari', which translates to 'autumn leaf hunting' has been popular for centuries, where people journey to the mountains and valleys to view the maples in their brilliant colours each autumn.

Tourists in a park in Japan admire the autumn colours of the Japanese maple trees.
Tourists and locals practice 'momiji-gari' during autumn in Japan.

In a similar way that many North Americans enjoy travelling to certain areas of the country to view the spectacular fall foliage, in Japan the excursions are regarded as a communion with the spirits that live within nature.


Japanese maple trees are revered around the world for their beauty and have been a symbol of charm and grace in many Asian cultures for millennia. The diversity of these impressive trees make them a popular addition to almost any yard or garden.

Many variations will also change colour throughout the year in spring, summer, and fall and are commonly chosen for their eye-catching appeal.

The stunning red foliage of this specimen grabs your attention in the Butchart Sunken Garden.

Ancient history and tradition surrounds these remarkable trees, which we are now able to enjoy throughout the world due to the dedication of botanists who continue to expand and nurture the 'Acer' culture and knowledge.

Whether adding a specimen to your own yard or taking the time to visit a Japanese garden, you are sure to enjoy the charm of these special trees, especially in autumn when they transform into living works of art; an experience not to be missed.

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