January plant of the month

In the dull days of winter this wonderful acer will brighten your garden up with its vivid bright red shoots and attractive stripy orange bark

snake bark mapleAcers are a wonderful group of trees that includes tough and vigorous species such as the Norway maple (Acer platanoides) as well as smaller ones with delicate foliage such as the Japanese maple,  A. palmatum. Snakebark maples are also worth a look with their attractive, stripy bark. 

Acer davidii and A. pensylvanicum were crossed in the 1960s and produced a selection called A. × conspicuum ‘Silver Vein’. The cultivar ‘Phoenix’ was a seedling of ‘Silver Vein’ and was selected as an improved form with brighter coloured shoots and bark.

Itis a large shrub or medium-sized, upright tree to 6m tall and spread making it suitable for an average-sized garden.

Winter glory

A deciduous tree bearing small, yellow flowers in spring, while in autumn the large  green leaves turn a fantastic golden yellow. The main reason to grow this tree though, is for its coloured shoots and bark. The young shoots are intense bright red and striped silvery white, which create a great contrast, and the bark is striped orange and pink with white snake-like lines running through it, which look wonderful in the low winter sun when the orange tones glow in the soft light.

This acer likes moist but well-drained soil that is neutral to acidic and to be sited in sun or part shade, in a sheltered location. It is one of the harder cultivars to grow, but it is well worth persevering with. It may be difficult to propagate and slow to establish when first planted, but once settled it will grow at a healthy rate and doesn’t need regular pruning.

It combines well with similarly colourful stemmed shrubs such as Cornus sanguinea ‘Anny’s Winter Orange’ or Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Yelverton’, each with fiery tones of yellow, orange and red. For a darker contrast try Salix daphnoides ‘Aglaia’ with its black stems. For structural interest during winter add evergreen shrubs such as Sarcococca confusa with its glossy, dark green foliage and small, fragrant white flowers or Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ with its sweet smelling pale mauve flowers. 

At RHS Garden Hyde Hall you can find A. x conspicuum ‘Phoenix’ in our new Winter Garden where it is starting to establish well.

See also: top 10 plants for winter structure in your garden

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