Contributed by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Morris Arboretum Volunteer and Penn State Master Gardener

 Japanese black pine with sharp, outward spreading needles and a characteristic central pointed bud.

          Japanese-styled gardens appear so visually simple.  Yet, they offer many natural elements to contemplate.  Of special note in these gardens are

Japanese pine trees (Matsu in Japanese).  Matsu have been revered for millennia, symbolizing endurance and eternity.

Look for Japanese pine trees (Pinus spp.) at the Morris Arboretum.  The Japanese Hill and Water Garden (near the Swan Pond) is a serene naturalistic small landscape.  The Japanese Overlook Garden (near the English Park) is a place to saunter, while enjoying expansive views.

  Japanese red pine with upward tufts of soft, long needles

From a distance, all pines look alike - evergreen year round with needles.  How do you tell which is a Japanese pine tree?  Get up close and count the pine needles on the twigs!  Specific pine trees are identified by its needle number.  That is, pines have either 2, 3 or 5 needles bundled together with a sheath; the bundle attaches to the branch.  Needle count alert: if you find a single needle or a group of a dozen or more needles without a bundle, then, the tree isn’t a pine tree.   

 Japanese white pine with twisted, brush-like tufts of short needles

The most commonly featured garden Japanese Pines have either two or five needles; none are three needled. The “two needle” pines are Pinus thunbergii, Japanese black pine (Kuromatsu in Japanese) and Pinus densiflora, Japanese red pine (Akamatsu in Japanese).  Black pine has sharply pointed, stiff, long dark green needles, spreading outward.  And, a characteristic, terminal, pointed bud (or candle).  In contrast, red pine has long, soft, bright green needles, which are held upright in tufts along the stems; its bark is a noticeable orangish red color.

The “five needle” Japanese white pine is Pinus parviflora (Goyomatsu in Japanese).  Its needles are shorter than those of black and red pines, forming twisted, brush-like tufts at the ends of branches.

Become a pine needle sleuth.  Discover the character and beauty of Japanese Pines!