Many trees have striking autumn foliage, but if you’re looking for a group that really have the X factor, there’s only one choice – maples. This large tribe are the star turn at this time of year and are prized for their foliage that turns fiery shades of red, yellow and orange before they drop.
Known botanically as acer (its name derives from the Latin word for sharp – in ancient Rome, branches were used to make handles for spears) these trees are native to every continent apart from Australia and Antarctica, with the bulk of those renowned for their autumn colour coming from North America and Japan.
Acer palmatum ‘Elegans’ and Acer japonicum ‘Acontifolium’ are among the best Japanese maples, while Acer rubrum ‘Northwood’ is a gorgeous variety from North America whose green leaves are flushed with red before turning completely scarlet. Another winner is Acer pauciflorum ‘Blaze Away’, a Chinese maple with deeply lobed, rich red leaves.
Although maples are completely hardy, the foliage of Japanese varieties are vulnerable to frost, wind or too much sun, which results in it scorching, shrivelling, desiccating at the edges and even falling prematurely. To prevent problems, plant them in dappled shade, avoiding frost pockets. Another option is to grow them in large pots that can be placed in a sheltered spot.