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A deciduous tree 20 to 50 ft high. Leaves five; more rarely three-lobed, 2 to 4 in. across, bright green above, paler, rather glaucous and glabrous beneath, except for a patch of down at the base and along the chief veins; stalk about as long as the blade. The three central lobes are parallel-sided, and each has several large, angular, blunt teeth; basal pair of lobes ovate. Flowers greenish yellow, produced during April in short-stalked corymbs. Fruit glabrous; keys 3⁄4 to 1 in. long; wings nearly parallel, 1⁄4 in. wide.
Native of S.E. Europe but represented in W. Asia by forms and varieties that differ to a greater or lesser degree from the plant described above. Even in S.E. Europe it is variable, and forms with small, leathery leaves found in Greece are sometimes regarded as a distinct species (A. reginae-amaliae Boiss.). A. hyrcanum is allied to A. opalus, but differs in the deeper and more angular lobing of the leaf. The form introduced is a slow-growing tree of neat shape. There are specimens 45 ft high at Westonbirt and in the University Parks, Oxford.
specimens: Kew, Maple Collection, 33 × 3 ft (1980); University Parks, Oxford, 42 × 33⁄4 ft (1981); Westonbirt, Glos., Willesley Drive, 50 × 43⁄4 ft (1977) and Broad Drive, 74 × 61⁄4 ft (1982).
This species was described by Bean (B205, S44) and Krüssmann (K78). Seven subspecies are now recognised, though these are imperfectly known and future investigations may relegate some names into synonymy. A key to the subspecies, several of which appear to be in cultivation, is provided below.
Tree or shrub to 4–12 m tall; leaves 3–10 cm across, margins flat
Shrub to 2–3 m tall; leaves 0.5–1.5 cm across, margins undulate; Greece, western Turkey
subsp. reginae-amaliae (Orph. ex Boiss.) A.E. Murray
Leaves five-lobed, margins coarsely serrate; samaras 3–4 cm long
Leaves three-lobed or with two additional poorly developed basal lobes, margins entire; samaras not over 1 cm long; southern Turkey
subsp. sphaerocarpum Yalt.
Leaves with petioles to 10 cm long
Leaves almost sessile; Lebanon, western Turkey
subsp. keckianum (Pax) Yalt.
Leaves dark bluish green above
Leaves green above
Leaves tomentose below, lobes abruptly acuminate; Ukraine (Crimea)
subsp. stevenii (Pojark.) A.E. Murray
Leaves glabrous, lobes acute to rounded; Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia & Montenegro
subsp. intermedium (Pančić) Bornm.
Small tree or shrub, to 5–6 m tall; leaves slightly tomentose below, deeply incised; Lebanon, western Syria, southern Turkey
subsp. tauricola (Boiss. & Blanche) Yalt.
Tree or rarely shrub, to 10–12 m tall; leaves glabrous, shallowly incised; Asia (Lebanon, western Iran, Turkey), Europe (Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia & Montenegro)
Acer hyrcanum is one of the rather unexciting maples from eastern Europe and the Middle East that can really only justify their space in a specialist collection. Even the nominate subspecies seems to be very scarce. It can be relatively large, but in many situations it is often rather small and scrubby. All the subspecies prefer a warm site. Most are in cultivation, and are occasionally offered for sale by specialists such as Firma C. Esveld, but notable specimens are rare. At Wakehurst Place there is a tree of subsp. tauricola grown from seed from the Flanagan & Pitman expedition to Turkey in 1990 (TURX 99), collected at 1670 m in the Amanus Mountains, Hatay Province, where the parent trees were up to 25 m tall. A specimen from the same collection at the Hillier Gardens was 3.6 m in 2005. At the Rogów Arboretum subsp. stevenii from the Crimea has formed a slow-growing small tree (P. Banaszczak, pers. comm. 2007).
While the leaves of some of these subspecies can be quite large and coarse, the distinction of having the smallest leaves in the genus goes to subsp. reginae-amaliae, from arid places in Greece and Turkey (van Gelderen & van Gelderen 1999), which would make an interesting shrub for a dry bank. A specimen of it is doing very well at Blagdon, Northumberland. Amalia of Oldenburg (1818–1875) was Queen Consort of King Otto of Greece until they were deposed in 1862. She is recorded to have been interested in horticulture, agriculture and viticulture, and was responsible for laying out the gardens of the royal palace in Athens (Wikipedia 2007). Her successor, Queen Olga, is commemorated by the autumn-flowering snowdrop Galanthus reginae-olgae – which would grow well on the same dry bank as the maple.
A curious observation noted at Hergest Croft is that A. hyrcanum seedlings make a strong root before the cotyledons emerge – apparently an adaptation to drier habitats. The slow-growing tree there is derived from seed collected on Kop Dag in northeastern Turkey, by R.L. Banks in 1982, outside the known range of any of the subspecies, and has not been identified to subspecific level (L. Banks, pers. comm. 2006).