Plant name: Esk Sunset

A few weeks ago I used this photo of Acer pseudoplatanus Esk Sunset in a piece I did for the Bay of Plenty Times but couldn’t find out how and why it was named from the internet (it turned out to be one of those cases of knowing what it is you’re asking to get the right answer) so decided to do some further digging.

The new green-and-cream leaves become strongly mottled with pink as spring goes on (above) and as the summer progresses, the undersides turn burgundy. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I started with David Parkes at Tamata, a specialist wholesale maple nursery in Waikato. He checked his reference books but came up empty and suggested a colleague in Christchurch who might know.

That seemed to be heading in the wrong direction, after all the Esk Valley is in Hawke’s Bay and I thought I remembered that this was indeed where the tree had been found and named (there’s also an Esk Flamingo).

So I called Steve Webb, city parks manager at Tauranga City Council. Why? He’s an arborist by training, hails from Hawke’s Bay and has strong horticultural links there (his great-grandfather started Cornwall Park Nursery, which closed in 2002, and his great-great grandfather worked for one of Hawke’s Bay’s first nurserymen.).

Steve didn’t know the origin of Esk Sunset but suggested trying Ben Currie at Leafland wholesale tree nursery in Palmerston North. Ben didn’t know offhand but reckoned he might know someone who would. “Leave it with me,” he said.

Amazingly, he phoned back about 20 minutes later (I thought it would take at least a day) with chapter and verse:

John Wills, who developed Trelinnoe Park near Napier, introduced two new maples (sycamores) to the nursery trade in New Zealand – Acer pseudoplatanus Esk Sunset and Acer pseudoplatanus Esk Flamingo. Both were chance seedlings he found in the 12ha garden, which is in the Esk Valley. Former Cambridge nurseryman Peter Cave, now retired to Raglan, helped get a supply of trees going.

So there we have it. A New Zealand developed tree that is also popular in North America where it’s known as Eskimo Sunset.

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8 thoughts on “Plant name: Esk Sunset

    • Hello Alex,

      Nice to meet you here – and nice to know that a New Zealand tree is so well thought of in Italy! As far as I know Esk Sunset was developed by Peter Cave who, at that time, had a tree nursery in Cambridge, New Zealand (Caves Tree Nursery). Peter has since retired and closed the nursery, much to the sorrow of anyone who is keen on trees. As to who introduced Esk Sunset to the wider market, I’m afraid I can’t help.

      All the best,
      Sandra

  1. Hi Alessandro,

    Sadly, no I do not have any Italian heritage. I am a fourth-generation New Zealander who has primarily English ancestry. The women who share my name in New Zealand all seem to be about the same age, more or less, so it must have been popular for a short time and then vanished again.

    All the best,
    Sandra

  2. We just planted an ‘Esk Sunset’ in our Maxwell Arboretum at the University of Nebraska Lincoln as part of the Friends of Maxwell Arboretum Fall Festival. I appreciate your research on the name of the tree as I’m always looking for that information for our plants on campus. I wonder if the “Eskimo” was just someone’s mistake along the way—a person in a nursery who thought the plant tag was an abbreviation . . .

    • Hello Emily, Glad to be of help. Funnily enough, I recently met the son of John Wills so will ask if he knows any more about the “Eskimo” name and come back to you.
      All the best,
      Sandra

    • Hi Emily, Bruce Wills (son of John who spotted the sport) says:
      “My understanding is that the ‘Eskimo’ name is a case of ‘lost in translation’. When the maple turned up in north America people didn’t get the ‘Esk’ bit, assumed it may be short for Eskimo and so the new name stuck!”

      So a little bit clearer.

      All the best,
      Sandra

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