In Bloom: Koto no Ito

Koto no Ito
Koto no Ito

Koto no Ito greets visitors as they approach the Japanese Garden gates.  Photo: Aleks Monk.

Acer palmatum ‘Koto-no-ito’ (which means “Harp Strings”) is a graceful, semi-dwarf Japanese Maple that visitors to the Seattle Japanese Garden see as they approach the entry courtyard and gate. The larger of two plants in the garden is planted in the lawn area there. A younger ‘Koto-no-ito’ is located  on the east side of the pond.

This cultivar is classified as a Linearilobum type – that is, a Japanese Maple with narrow-lobed, strap-like foliage. In fact, ‘Koto-no-ito’ displays two distinct leaf types: the foliage that emerges in spring (on “old” wood) is very fine and essentially string-like. Later in the season, the leaves that emerge on “new growth” have lobes that are longer and broader, although still considered “narrow.” Another name for this cultivar is “Dancing Monkey Tree,” for the way its narrow lobes move in the wind.

The strap-like leaves emerge green with crimson tints, but soon become all green -- and remain so throughout the summer. Fall color is golden yellow, sometimes becoming orange or crimson. Often, the earlier, string-like foliage turns golden first, creating a gold and green effect until the broader, later-emerging foliage develops its own fall color.

‘Koto-no-ito’ is a dense, upright grower with a vase-shaped habit and a soft, graceful appearance. Its 10-year size is about 6 feet tall by 4 feet wide. At maturity (approximately 25 years), expect a size of 10-15 feet tall by 8-10 feet wide.

koto no ito

In the Pacific Northwest, this maple is available at some of the larger retail nurseries, so visitors to the Japanese Garden who admire it could plant one in their own garden. Its manageable size, unusual foliage and glowing fall color make it an attractive addition to large or small gardens. It does well planted in the ground or in a container; in part shade or full sun.

Corinne Kennedy is a trained guide for Seattle Japanese Garden and a contributor to the garden's blog.