Plant of the Month – October, 2007
At a glance
Latin Name: Acer leucoderme
Common Name: chalk maple
Foliage: Medium-green with bright fall color
Mature height: 20 feet
Hardiness: Zone 5
Soil: Acid to slightly alkaline
Exposure: Full sun to light shade
Water usage: Medium
Sources: Local nurseries
Mention fall color and maples and gardeners immediately think of either sugar maples of the northeast or of Japanese maples. Well, they aren’t the only ones with fantastic fall color! Chalk maple, native from Eastern Texas through the Southeast puts on an incredible fall display.
At the Dallas Arboretum, chalk maple is planted as an understory tree in the Palmer Fern Dell, and every year I get dozens of questions about the stunning fall color it produces. The leaves turn brilliant orange, red or yellow, depending on the particular plant and where it is placed. This is one of the most reliable fall color trees we have on property.
During summer, this tree fades into the background. Its small stature (15 to 20 feet) and medium-green leaves easily mix into a woodland setting. If planted in the open, it will form a small tree with either multiple or a single trunk and a small, rounded crown.
Some botanists consider this maple to be a sub-species of the sugar maple (Acer saccharum), but most literature now cites it as a separate species. The common name chalk maple for A. leucoderme is in reference to the attractive, chalky-white bark. “Leucoderme” means “white skin” in Latin. As the tree matures, the bark becomes heavily ridged and darkens.
Not only is chalk maple beautiful, but it is also exceptionally drought- and shade-tolerant. If you have a smaller lot or are looking for a understory tree, then I encourage you to take a look at this uncommon Texas native.
About the author: Jimmy Turner is the Director of Horticulture Research at the Dallas Arboretum. For more plant profiles by Jimmy, subscribe to Neil Sperry’s GARDENS Magazine.