Acer griseum (Franch.) Pax

First published in H.G.A.Engler (ed.), Pflanzenr., IV, 163: 30 (1902)
This species is accepted
The native range of this species is Central China (to SW. Henan). It is a tree and grows primarily in the temperate biome.


Kew Species Profiles

General Description
The paperbark maple is an ornamental tree with peeling, copper-brown bark. Its leaves start orange in spring, then turn successively pinkish-brown, yellow and deep green through summer and finally end up deep red in autumn.

It was collected in China by the French missionary Père Paul Farges and the Irish plantsman Augustine Henry. It was originally described by Adrien Franchet in 1894 as a variety of the Japanese maple, Acer nikoense. It was recollected by Ernest Wilson, introduced into Britain in 1901 and given its present name by Ferdinand Pax in 1902.

Species Profile
Geography and distribution

Found in central China in Gansu, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Shaanxi, Shanxi and Sichuan provinces, between 1,500 - 2,000 m elevation. Widely cultivated in temperate countries.


Acer griseum is a deciduous tree up to 20 m tall, but often smaller in cultivation. The bark is reddish-brown and peels in small sheets. The leaves have three leaflets that are downy underneath with downy stalks. The leaflets have coarse, blunt teeth, measuring 3-8 cm long and 2-5 cm across. The flowers are small, few, and yellow on pendulous downy stalks up to 3 cm. The wind-dispersed samaras (fruits with papery wings) are pale brown, downy, with spreading or nearly erect wings and hard round nutlets.

Threats and conservation

Acer griseum is listed as Endangered (EN A2c). Although it is found naturally over a large area of central China, the population is now fragmented, small and declining.


Acer griseum is a popular ornamental tree. It has received an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

'Chinese' Wilson and Kew

In April 1899, Ernest Henry Wilson was sent to China by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to investigate the effect of the charcoal industry on forests, as well as being employed to look for new and interesting plants by James Veitch & Sons' Nursery, Chelsea. Later, Wilson became known as 'Chinese' Wilson and eventually brought over a thousand garden plants to cultivation in Europe and America, including many well-known species, such as Acer griseum , Davidia involucrata (handkerchief tree) and Lilium regale (regal lily).


Propagation is difficult as this species tends to produce fruits with no viable embryos. It is therefore seldom successfully grown from seed by the amateur.

Fine specimens can be seen in a number of well-established gardens in Europe and southern England, where it does particularly well, growing on most well-drained soils including chalk.

This species at Kew

Acer griseum can be seen in several locations at Kew - in the Bamboo Garden, to the north of the Princess of Wales Conservatory, in the Director's Garden, and from the Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway. It can also be found north of the Lily Pond at Wakehurst.

Alcohol-preserved specimens of Acer griseum are held in Kew's Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details of some of these specimens can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.

Mixed forest.
Endangered (EN) according to IUCN Red List criteria in The Red List of Maples.

None known.


Extinction risk predictions for the world's flowering plants to support their conservation (2024). Bachman, S.P., Brown, M.J.M., Leão, T.C.C., Lughadha, E.N., Walker, B.E.

Predicted extinction risk: not threatened. Confidence: confident

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

EN - endangered



Common Names

Paper Bark Maple, Paperbark maple


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