Why it's choice: Vine maple hits a triple, with pleasing flowers, fruit and foliage. Clusters of small white...

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Why it’s choice: Vine maple hits a triple, with pleasing flowers, fruit and foliage. Clusters of small white and maroon flowers open in April, before the fan-like leaves unfurl. Pairs of red-winged seeds emerge amidst summer’s fresh greenery.

Then, before you’re even thinking of autumn, vine maple leaves will start to glow yellow, orange and scarlet, giving the most dependable fall color in our native flora.

What it can do in the garden: Growing most often as a multi-stemmed tree, vine maple looks great under conifers. It complements ferns and forest flowers, or stands out as a specimen in a lawn or border. It hosts butterflies and moths, provides nectar for bees, and supplies tasty seeds for woodpeckers, nuthatches and finches.

Where to see it: Vine maple is common in Western Washington, thriving from sea level up into the mountains. See it “vining” in almost impenetrable thickets along rivers and streams, such as the North Fork of the Nooksack. Or notice its reds and yellows flashing from the forest’s edge on a fall drive up to any of the mountain passes.

The facts: In the garden, vine maple grows 15 to 30 feet tall, and looks its best where it can branch freely. Hardy and fast-growing, vine maple can help stabilize a slope. Sun or shade, it does well in damp or streamside sites, and dry sites too. Water it well its first two summers, and vine maple will reward you with years of glory.

And, hey, it’s flexible: Vine maple shoots bend with ease and have been used for baskets and snowshoe frames. The green wood is hard to burn — a good stick for marshmallow-roasting!

You can find out more information about native plants, including where to buy them, from the Washington Native Plant Society, www.wnps.org.

Sarah Gage is a writer and botanist who gardens in Seattle. sgage@seanet.com. She is affiliated with the Washington Native Plant Society.