Pinus parviflora / Japanese white pine

subgenus Strobus (Lemmon), section Quinquefoliae (Duhamel), subsection Strobus (Loudon).

Pinus parviflora, first described in 1842 by Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796–1866) et Joseph Gerhard Zuccarini (1790–1848), is commonly known as Japanese white pine; as well as ゴヨウマツ (Hime ko matsu, or Goyo matsu) in the Japanese language. The species is named for its unusually small seed cones; parviflora is Latin for "small flower."

Ethnobotany. It is a common ornamental, and a popular tree for bonsai. It was introduced to England in 1861 by John Gould Veitch and has become quite popular in English gardens.

artwork by Gábor Emese
artwork by Gábor Emese

Description. Japanese white pine is an evergreen, coniferous species of tree that grows to mature heights of 80 feet (25 m) with a massive, straight (sometimes split into two or more stems), trunk up to 40 inches (100 cm) in diameter, measured at breast height; and an irregular crown that flattens in old trees.

  • Bark is smooth and gray when young, aging to a dull gray, rough textured, longitudinally fissured, and peeling off into scales.
  • Branchlets are gray-green to yellow-brown in color and puberulent (glabrous). The scale leaves are alternate on long shoots and at base of short shoots, colored red-brown, acutely lanceolate, measuring 0.2 to 0.6 inch (5 - 15 mm) long, 0.08 inch (2 mm) wide, and deciduous.
  • Leaves (needles) borne 5 per fascicle (fascicle sheaths are deciduous in their second year). Each measures 1.2 to 2.4 inches (3 - 6 cm) long and 0.32 inch (0.8 mm) thick, with an acute apex, growing twisted and triangular in transverse section, colored dark green on dorsal face, with the two ventral faces colored pale green from stomatal bands. Foliar units are densely whorled, giving branches a tufted appearance.
  • Pollen cones are borne in clusters of 20 to 30, crowded on lower part of new shoots. They are cylindric, red-brown in color, meauring 0.2 to 0.24 inch (5 - 6 mm long) and 0.12 inch (3 mm) wide, with numerous stamens.
  • Seed cones are small for a tree of subgenus Strobus, growing in clusters of 1 to 10, crowded on the upper part of new shoots, ovoid or elliptic-ovoid shapes, maturing at 2.4 to 3.2 inches (6 - 8 cm) long and 1.2 to 1.4 inches (3 - 3.5 cm) wide.
  • Seed scales are resinous, loosely overlapping at maturity, widely obovate, gradually narrowing to base, measuring 0.8 to 1 inch (2 - 2.5 cm) long, and 0.8 to 0.92 inch (2 - 2.3 cm) wide, with a rounded apex, a blackish spiny boss. The cones persist on the tree for many years.
  • Seeds are obovoid, blackish in color, 0.32 to 0.4 inch (8 - 10 mm) long, and 0.24 to 0.28 inch (6 - 7 mm) wide. Attached wings are short, 0.12 to 0.28 inch (3 - 7 mm) long by 0.32 inch (8 mm) wide, as long as, or shorter than seed.
photo donated by Katherine Wagner-Reiss
photo donated by Katherine Wagner-Reiss

Pinus parviflora has been used in the art of Bonsai for centuries, particularly plants selected with shorter-than-typical needles. The specimen on the left is on display at the Arnold Arboretum, Boston, Massachusetts. It has been in training 1899 and shipped to the U.S. from Japan in 1913 to the Honorable Larz Anderson, who purchased a collection of bonsai while serving as US ambassador to Japan. The entire collection was donated to the Arnold Arboretum; this one was accessioned in July of 1949.

This conifer's origin was Yokohama Nursery Company, Yokohama, Japan via Mr. Larz Anderson, Brookline, MA, United States.

natural range of <em>Pinus parviflora </em>
natural range of Pinus parviflora

Distribution. This species is native to Korea (Ullung island) and Japan. Type variety is in west-central Honshu (southward from Fukushima Prefecture, mainly on Pacific Ocean side), Shikoku and Kyushu, growing at elevations of 750 to 6,000 feet (200 - 1800 m) above sea level. Var. pentaphylla is in southern Hokkaido and north to central Honshu (in central Honshu mainly on Japan Sea side), growing on sunny rocky slopes at elevations of 200 to 2,500 feet (60 - 800 m) above sea level in Hokkaido, and 1,000 to 8,000 feet (300 - 2500 m) in Honshu. This and P. koraiensis are the characteristic pines of subalpine areas of Japan; these two conifers probably covered much of the Honshu coastal area during the Pleistocene.

Hardy to Zone 5 — cold hardiness limit between -20° and -10°F (-28.8°C and -23.3°C).

Attribution from: K. Iwatsuki, T. Yamazaki, D.E. Boufford, and H. Ohba (editors); Flora of Japan, Volume 1. Pteridophyta and Gymnospermae. ©1995, KodanshaTokyo, Japan.

young cones and candle of Pinus parviflora 'Glauca' atop Comstock Knoll at Cornell Plantations
Photo by Phil Syphrit/Cornell Plantations
young cones and candle of Pinus parviflora — bark detail.
Photo by C.J. Earle
This variegated Japanese White Pine is about 10 years old in Brunswick, ME, 2013. It's getting too much sun and will be moved to preserve the bud tips which are starting to burn.
Photo by Sean Callahan

Comments

John

Can you tell me if there are specific types of Japanese white pines that may survive the heat better than others? I'm not having much luck growing them as bonsai's in zone 10.

Thank you

David Olszyk

hello John ... are you in Zone 10 Florida or Zone 10 California? If you can find a parv with a southern Japanese provenance you may have better luck. However southern Japan is very humid with copious summer rainfall. That's why I asked if you were southern Florida or California.

John

Thanks David. Yes, it’s very dry here in So. CA.
I wet my pines a bit almost every day. I hadn't thought of that but it makes good sense. Do you know what type of Parv. that may grow there, or might you have a good source of purchasing trees from Japan? I’ve done just a bit of research and found little written in English in looking for trees.
Thanks again - John

Rick Davenport

Is it okay to plant the fukai variety outdoors in a large pot?

David Olszyk

sure ... I just hope you like to prune (roots too). This one grows pretty fast.

Rick Davenport

According to the tag, the Fukai Japanese White Pine takes 10 years to become 10 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Are we talking about the same tree?

David Olszyk

I've seen first hand that this tree can grow up to 2 feet per year with a spread nearly as wide as height, so (little surprise) the tag is wrong.

Sylvie Royer

bonjour
j ai des graines de japenese pinus et je ne sais pas trop comment les faire germer .
j ai déjà placée des graines dans 2 ouates avec de l eau ca fait bien un mois et rien ne germe, et j ai mit dans la terre quelques graines qui nont pas germées bien sure!

pouvez vous m écrire la bonne méthode si j ai pas les bonnes.

un gros merci davances.!!

Gerry Murphy

I have a mature Japanese white pine bonsai (I believe it to be 35 to 40 years old) I was given as a gift over the winter. I have been reading all I can on the care of this tree but am getting conflicting advice one decandling. Some say it should be done now in May・June period others say you don't touch it until the fall. Some advise de-needling now and decandle in the fall? Any advise?

Deborah Kern

I have an 11-foor Pinus parviflora 'Glauca" that was planted in 2017. Every year, the needles on the bottom branches turn yellow and fall off. This year is the worst. I live on Lake Michigan about 10 miles north of downtown Milwaukee, WI. Any suggestions or recommendations for a conifer specialist in the area that I could contact?

David Olszyk

Hi Deborah ... white pines will shed up to 50% of their old needles every fall. It's normal behavior for this species. As far as "local specialists ... " I recommend that you join the ACS. Members have access to the membership database where you can find like-minded members in your area. Good luck.