A deciduous tree of compact, rounded form, 30 ft or more high; branchlets downy. Leaf consisting of three leaflets borne on a slender common stalk 2 to 3 in. long, glabrous except for a few hairs at the junction of the stalks of the leaflets. Leaflets 2 to 31⁄2 in. long, obovate, oval or ovate, the terminal part of each one coarsely and irregularly toothed; they are glabrous except for small tufts of down in the axils of the veins. Flowers minute, each on a stalk 1⁄3 to 1⁄4 in. long, produced in May with the leaves, on very slender racemes 2 to 4 in. long, and downy. Fruit in long racemes; keys 1 in. long, glabrous; the wings obliquely ovate, 1⁄3 in. wide, diverging from each other at an angle of 60° or less.
Native of Japan; date of introduction uncertain, but before 1870. This interesting maple is one of the small number that bear compound leaves. Its nearest ally appears to be the American A. negundo but in that species the leaves are often composed of five leaflets, with the terminal one larger than the laterals, and the male flowers are borne in corymbs. A. nikoense, another Japanese species with compound leaves, is well distinguished from A. cissifolium by its upright habit, by the hairiness of the main leaf-stalk, of the undersides of the leaves and of the nutlets; flowers of both sexes are borne on the same tree, and in corymbs, not racemes.
It is an elegant species of mushroom-like habit, and the foliage turns red and yellow in the autumn. A position shaded from the strongest sun should be chosen, especially if the soil is on the dry side. The best-known specimens in the British Isles are at Westonbirt, Glos., in Morley, Mitchell, and Holford Drives, ranging from 25 to 31 ft in height (1966). At East Bergholt Place, Suffolk, it is 25 ft high in woodland (1966).