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Marmo Maple

by The Smart Gardener, Chicago Botanic Garden

Marmo Maple.
Marmo maple, Acer x Fremanii 'Marmo'.

Memories of Maples

In October, it’s all too easy to fall in love. However, the object of my desire is a maple—a big one. Although the small-sized Japanese maples are laced with charms of their own, they’re often finicky and unpredictable as they try to make a go of it in our inhospitable soil and climate. My heart yearns for one of those grand, deciduous shade trees that adorn parks and campuses, cover New England mountains, and line midwestern main streets. These are the kinds of maples you love to look at because they are so beautiful and strong. It reminds me of when it was safe to walk to school, shuffle through mounds of leaves (innocent of leaf blowers), and scan the ground for a few freshly fallen mementos, just to save.

Strong Genes

Marmo maple (Acer x fremanii ‘Marmo’) is a tree with a lot to love. The natural offspring of silver and red maple parents, it appears to have inherited the positive characteristics of both. Unlike its silver parent, it is seedless—joy to all gardeners who annually rake up barrels of dried silver maple seeds, often from their neighbor’s trees. Unlike its red parent, it tolerates heavy clay soil without demonstrating leaf chlorosis, which would ruin the fall display, a fate akin to a peacock without its feathers. Tall and straight with an upright, slightly oval appearance, this tree speaks of strength and power. The branches are hefty and properly angled to handle snow loads without splitting. ‘Marmo’ is a fast grower and will cover a lot of lawn for those who desire such a standout tree.

Magic Moments

The large, clear green leaves are deeply cut, with points of all sizes. Bright red petioles, often longer than six inches, connect the leaves to the tree. It’s our good fortune that this insignificant plant part—a petiole!—is indeed mighty, for it keeps its leaf firmly attached so we may enjoy one of nature’s amazing displays. In early September, depending on the weather, the leaves begin to show entirely random patches of red, circles of crimson, blotches of burgundy. Leaves at branch tips color up first, while the interior of the tree retains its summer green. As fall evenings cool further, the red heats up, the green goes chartreuse and then slips into molten gold. What follows is an annual color show unique to each plant and each autumn. The tree retains its leaves while they morph from green and red to crimson and chartreuse to yellow and…orange?

A Four-Season Wonder

You may fall in love with its fall color, but ‘Marmo’ is not just a one-season wonder. Years ago, a savvy plantsman cautioned me never to consider a crab apple for its flowers alone. This was a jolt. Crab apples are cherished in the Midwest for their two-week floral explosion in early May. Gardeners agonize over white, pink, or red blooms, double or single. But...for just two out of 52 weeks?

‘Marmo’ brings four seasons of pest-free, disease-free beauty and grandeur to your great garden or the public gardens near you. Every time I look at my own ‘Marmo’, I see it change, grow, color up, flower (yes), and surprise me with each season. Little did I know when we planted this tree, that its glorious leaves, always different, always better than before, would be carefully picked by our children and grandchildren, pressed into heavy books lined with paper towels, and then, weeks later, happily “rediscovered” to decorate the table for our many fall celebrations.


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