Japanese Red Pine
08/01/2013 - 08/30/2013
Memphis Botanic Garden map
Japanese Red Pine
Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus-draconis’
Attributes: While conifers that do well in our Mid-South climate are not abundant in number, pines as a genus are better represented than most. One of the most unusual and beautiful of the pines that do well here is the variegated form of Japanese red pine, Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus draconis’, sometimes referred to as “Dragon eye pine.” Native to Japan, the species is said to grow to 100 feet in its native habitat. I have never seen a specimen approaching anything close to that. Its needles are a bright bluish green with two bright cream-colored bands that are especially prominent in the growing season. The needles are quite flexible, almost twisted and appear two per fascicle. Our specimen was dug from a private garden here in Memphis and planted in the Japanese Garden near the moon gazing pavilion about 10 years ago. It has been pruned in a Bonsai style, so its form is not typical of the species. The bark, as it matures, is exfoliating and turns a beautiful copper-red, which is reason enough to grow this outstanding conifer.
Landscape Value: Because this is such an unusual plant, it is best used as a specimen in a choice location. The natural form would be upright, often multi-trunked, not the typical pyramid shape of most pines. Since it is sun loving, it should be in a fairly open situation away from the shade of other large deciduous trees. However, a background of large deciduous trees would be a great foil for this pine in the summer months when its variegation is most intense.
Growing Tip: Japanese Red Pine is winter hardy at least to zone 5, possibly zone 4 with protection from winter winds, so cold is not really a consideration here. Memphis is in zone 7. Most important would be good drainage, a sunny location and slightly acid soil. Planting could be done spring or fall. Only container grown or balled and burlaped specimens should be considered for planting.