Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus Draconis’  was planted in the Azalea Meadow at Morris Arboretum in 2003.

Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss in 2018.

Contributed by Katherine Wagner-Reiss

Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus Draconis’ is one of the more striking evergreens at Morris Arboretum.  Pinus is the Latin name for a pine tree. Densiflora means densely flowered, a misnomer because pines reproduce, not by flowers, but by cones! While not botanically accurate, densiflora is probably an allusion to the densely clustered male and numerous female cones on these trees. The cultivar nameOculus Draconis’ refers to the view from the reddish terminal bud surrounded by concentric layers of long, yellow and green variegated needles, which is said to look like the “eye of the dragon.” Its unofficial Japanese cultivar name ‘Jano-Metranslates to “eye of the snake.”  Dragon’s Eye Japanese Red Pine is the common name because young bark has a reddish color.

This particular variegated pine has been cultivated in Japanese gardens for centuries. The variegation in the Dragon’s Eye Pine is a mutation wherein the yellow portions of the needle do not produce green chlorophyll, the chemical needed for  the photosynthesis of sugars; thus yellow areas of the needle do not contribute to the plant’s energy needs. On the other hand, one positive aspect of variegated cultivars is that some pests may avoid the trees, perceiving them as abnormal or diseased.


Dragon’s Eye Japanese Red Pine- do you see the eye of the dragon?

Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss in 2018.

In addition to Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus- Draconis,’ Morris Arboretum has four other types of P. densiflora.  Pinus densiflora is the straight species.  Pinus densiflora ‘Umbraculifera’ is a beautiful multi-trunked cultivar valued for its umbrella-like crown. The hybrid Pinus densiflora x pinus thunbergia (named for botanist Pehr Thunberg 1743-1845) is a cross between the Japanese Red Pine and the Japanese  Black Pine; the natural hybrid is  considered to be a good omen in Japan.  Pinus densiflora x ( densiflora x thunbergia) is a twice hybridized tree. 

A dwarf cultivar named ‘Morris Arboretum W.B.’ is pictured on the American Conifer Society site. Despite its name, this cultivar is NOT a specimen at Morris Arboretum.  According to Anthony Aiello, the Director of Horticulture, its provenance is not certain, but it may have been collected from a witches’ broom (a genetically altered branch) growing on a Pinus densiflora at Morris Arboretum.

So, there is a lot to entertain any budding botanist: reddish bark, dragon eyes, snake eyes, umbrellas and witches’ brooms.  And you may be lucky enough to receive the added bonus of seeing the beauty of these pines enhanced by snow! You can find all tree locations on the maps found on the Collection Connection or in the Morris Arboretum Plant Catalogue

Katherine has her Certificate in Botany from the New York Botanical Garden and is a botanical tour guide and free-lance writer.