Shishigashiras are slow-growing, more compact forms of the traditional Japanese maple. They grow to between 7 to 15 feet tall and feature lobed, palmate leaves that grow in tufts surrounding the tree's stems, although the foliage on younger trees is often thinly dispersed. The leaves are crinkled and bright green in color, and they contain five to seven lobes each.
In April, the trees grow small, reddish-purple flowers.that appear rather unremarkable from a distance. Samaras grow to take the place of the flowers and ripen some time between late summer and early fall. During this time, the tree's leaves also change to bright shades of crimson and gold.
Samaras, also known as achene, are a type of fruit that grows from some flowering plants. They feature flat, paper-like wings that are constructed of fibrous tissue. The fruit's wings allow the wind to carry it long distances to distribute its seeds. Although the fruit isn't edible, it is well known for its entertainment value. Because of its shape, it is often called a helicopter, wingnut, whirligig or whirlibird. When the fruit appear in the fall, children often gather them and toss them into the air to watch them twirl as they fall to the ground.