A tree with a very appropriate name, the red maple is red all year long. Depending on the season, they have their red displayed in buds, twigs, flowers and seeds. But they are best known for their dramatic scarlet fall colors. It is the most common tree species in America, ranging from Canada to southern Florida.
The champion red maple, located in the Smokies, is 141 feet tall and over 7 feet in diameter. Contrast that with this specimen only a couple feet tall growing hours away from its giant cousin at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville. The bonsai collection has been on public display for 10 years, but specimens are removed from mid November until mid March to avoid damage from cold weather since they are grown in pots. Through a variety of techniques, these diminutive plants are kept forever small but artistically shaped, often resembling ancient trees with great character.
My visit was punctuated by an endless stream of excited chatter and wows from other visitors, everyone completely charmed by these tiny trees showing enough dramatic colors for any fall foliage fanatic. Though they are the ultimate in cultivated plants, their wildness couldn’t be confined to a pot, their colors more vivid than the large trees growing just beyond their display. I felt as if this red maple held the essence of forests in its tiny form, each leaf offering the magic of the season. Gardens are a gesture to our love of nature, and as I admired this maple I heard a silent echo of its giant cousins turning bright red in forests across America.