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A deciduous tree to 17 m. Bark dark green with pale stripes, turning brown with age. Branchlets glabrous, purplish red or greenish, striped white. Buds stipitate, oblong, with two pairs of valvate scales. Leaves ovate, base subcordate to rounded, undivided or shallowly three- (rarely five-) lobed, (6-) 8–12 (-14) × (4-) 5–8 (-9) cm, lobes apically obtuse or acute, apex acuminate to caudate-acuminate, margins irregularly serrulate or double-serrate, upper surface dark green, lower surface rusty pubescent at first, later glabrous; petiole 3–6 cm long, red to green, often grooved, pubescent or not; autumn colours yellow to red. Inflorescence axillary or terminal, racemose, pendulous, 10–30 flowered. Flowers yellowish green, 5-merous, usually dioecious, pedicels 1–1.5 cm long, sepals elliptic, ~0.4 cm long, petals obovate, ~0.4 cm long, stamens eight, inserted outside the nectar disc. Samaras 25 to 2.8 cm long, wings spreading obtusely to horizontally. Nutlets concave on one side. Flowering April, with unfolding leaves, fruiting in October. (Xu et al. 2008; Rix 2013).
Distribution Myanmar China Anhui, Fujian, SE Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Henan, Hubei, Jiangsu, Ningxia, S Shaanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan; Zhejiang
Habitat Temperate mixed forests.
USDA Hardiness Zone 6-7
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
One of the most common snake bark maples in cultivation, Acer davidii was described in 1886 from material collected in Baoxing, Sichuan by French botanist and missionary Père Armand David (Rix 2013). It had been introduced to cultivation before then, however, through Maries from Ichang, Hubei in 1879, while collecting for Veitch Nurseries. This small-leaved form from the northern part of the species range was also introduced by Wilson in 1907 (Sargent 1913) representing one of two common forms of the species in cultivation described by Bean (1976) and now often grown as ‘Ernest Wilson’. The second form, from further south, in Yunnan, with larger leaves is often grown as ‘George Forrest’. Though usually described as cultivars, neither of these forms are clonal and they would be better treated as Groups. However, both are yet to be described as such.
Since Bean (1976), a great many more successful introductions have been made, which have served to illustrate the variety within. This is unsurprising, given Acer davidii has the largest ranges of any maple in China. Among these are numerous SICH introductions, from Sichuan, which are well represented particularly in British collections as well as at Quarryhill Botanical Garden and other gardens on the west coast of North America. Particularly distinctive is SICH 2228, collected in Kanding County, Sichuan Province (SICH 2228), with rounded leaves, as exhibited by plants at RBG Kew and Westonbirt, The National Arboretum, UK. A young example from this collection has deep red new growth, though this character is somewhat variable among plants from the same collection, as is also the case with plants of Compton, d’Arcy & Rix 2117, collected north of Lijiang, Yunnan Province (Rix 2013). Plants if another SICH collection from Kanding County, SICH 720 has large leaves, recalling the form grown as ‘George Forrest’. Vigorous shoots can be three-lobed and all available material should be examined to distinguish between the typical subspecies and subsp. grosseri. This too has variable characters and older branches can produce unlobed leaves (Xu et al. 2008).
Interestingly, while leaf shape and, in some cases, lobing can be somewhat variable within the species, its bark tends to be quite consistent, remaining smooth and green, even with age. However, a plant of GUIZ 219 at the David C. Lam Asian Garden at the University of British Columbia shows fissuring not usually associated with the species. A fine plant of SABE 0517 of similar stature close by has typical bark, the two providing a useful study tool (D. Justice pers. comms. 2019). As stated by Bean (1988), LANC 962 also fits Acer davidii, rather than A. metcalfii. See the account of that species for further details of plants grown under that number.
Herbarium material at Kew and RBG Edinburgh from Vietnamese collections appears, in maturity, to belong to the Acer davidii affinity. However, plants circulated from these collections, made by RBGE and partners in 2014, appear quite different from this species in juvenility. They have large, distinctly three- or five-lobed leaves, with deep red colouration in spring. Leaf size and lobing both decrease with age, though the foliar differences between parent and offspring are most extreme at this point.
Plants of Acer davidii can be single or multistemmed and are relatively unfussy in cultivation. Favouring partial shade in a sheltered location, the species will withstand exposure to full sun. In the wild, it often grows along rivers where its growth is less impacted by larger trees (Rix 2013). van Gelderen, de Jong and Oterdoom (1994) state that it has potential as a street tree, though it is rarely used as such. The species is easily grown from seed, though when collected from specimens grown in proximity to other members of section Macrantha, hybrids are to be expected.