This is the story of a special tree in our family: the Drake Maple.
In 1986, my grandpa, Ed Drake, decided that he wanted to spruce up some of the landscaping at his house. He went to a nursery, and with the help of his horticulturally-trained son-in-law, picked out some bushes for the front of his house. They picked out some yews and spireas, and bought a pretty lilac bush to plant by the front bedroom window. As they were walking around the lot, the salesman learned my Papa’s last name, Drake. He said, “I have a tree with your name on it!” He convinced my Papa to also purchase a small maple tree, the Drake Maple.
The Drake Maple is a variety of Acer rubrum, and has brilliant fall colors. A U.S. patent for this new variety was filed by Virgil James Drake (no known relation to our Drake family) in January 1973. This variety is particularly unique in its fall coloring. It is described as “having distinctively colored leaves turning from green to a colored border through shades of blue violet to red and yellow,” and was discovered by V.J. Drake in Van Buren County, Michigan in September 1967. V.J. Drake was able to propagate seedlings through cuttings of the original tree. By the time my grandpa acquired one in 1986, it was available at a few nurseries throughout the United States.
My Papa planted his new tree in a place of honor, directly in front of his house. Every fall, it shows off its brilliant colors. The edges of the leaves turn red, and often the middle of the leaf turns from green to yellow. At different times, the tree may look red or orange from afar, and the variety of color in its leaves becomes apparent at close range. My grandparents loved to watch it change colors every fall, and it was often the backdrop for family photos. I have never seen another one in person. In more ways than one, this “family tree” is quite special.
If you’d like to see this cultivar in person, to my knowledge, there are Drake Maples planted at Hidden Lake Gardens at Michigan State University and Home & Garden Information Center at Clemson Cooperative Extension, South Carolina.
- U.S. Patent Office, Plant Patent 3,542, Maple Tree by Virgil James Drake. (External link to full patent text.)
- Images are personal family photos, taken by the author or Britni Michael Photography.