Small Canadian Maple trees

(Question)

We recently visited Toronto from England (16 – 24 May 2013) and thought how beautiful the city looked with all the Spring trees. Many shady front gardens had a delicate Acer type smallish tree with pinkish red leaves and a dark bark. The branches were not crowded together so it was possible to appreciate the movement of the leaves in the breeze. We would very much like to have one in our garden and wonder if you could tell us what the name might be.

Thank you for any help you can give us.

(Answer)

There are many types of maples that are grown here; the one with the most interesting bark is the Acer griseum or Paperbark Maple, however its new spring leaves are definitely green, although a lovely red in the fall.

However, Torontonians are very fond of Japanese Maples, Acer palmatum, and there are a couple that have lovely red leaves in spring that might be what you saw, for example, Acer palmatum Shin Deshojo, which has small leaves and fine branching. Here is a picture of that plant:

Acer palmatum Shin Deshojo Photo by Progressive Plants

However,  the most commonly planted red-leafed Japanese Maple in our city is the variety Bloodgood, which you can see in our Garden Guide on Growing Japanese Maple here. If it was an Acer palmatum that you saw so frequently, it was most likely Bloodgood.

Finally, in early to mid May, one of the most wonderful trees that can be seen in many Toronto gardens is not an Acer at all but the Eastern Redbud, or Cercis canadensis, which has a very graceful form and stunning pink/red flowers before it leafs out. Is it possible that you saw these?

The most common one can be seen here at the Fine Gardening web site.  That page also shows the variety called Forest Pansy, which does indeed have purple leaves following the pink  / purple flowers.

I hope that you find a tree for your garden that will bring back happy memories of your visit to Toronto.