Japanese White Pine: Whimsical and Tough

Picturesque may be the first word that comes to mind when describing the Japanese white pine, Pinus parviflora.
Japanese White Pine: Whimsical and Tough - Articles


Photo: Sandy Feather

This graceful, slow-growing tree typically grows on steep slopes or dry, rocky ridges in its native habitat in Japan and Korea. The straight species has green foliage, but the blue-needled form is most common in cultivation in the United States. Pinus parviflora 'Glauca' was the accepted name for the blue-needled forms, but that name has been eliminated and the accepted nomenclature is now Pinus parviflora Glauca Group in order to include all of the blue-needled cultivars.

Pinus parviflora grows 50-70 feet tall in the wild, but is a more restrained 25-50 feet tall with a similar or greater spread in the landscape. It has a dense, conical habit in youth and becomes flat-topped and wide-spreading with age. Trunks are often crooked, which gives full sized trees a bonsai-like appearance. The needles are arranged in fascicles of five and tend to be arrayed in tufts around the branches. They persist on the tree for 4-5 years. While some conifers do not produce cones until they are mature, Pinus parviflora cones heavily even in youth; cones persist on the tree for 6-7 years.

Full sun and well-drained soil are the main requirements for success with Pinus parviflora. It is tolerant of poor soil as long as drainage is good. As its native habitat suggests, Pinus parviflora is fairly drought tolerant once established, and even tolerates salt spray (but not deicing salts in the soil). It is hardy in USDA Zones 4-7.

Pinus parviflora is an exquisite specimen, and can be used effectively in groups. It is also a choice conifer for small properties. Pinus parviflora is a popular subject for bonsai practitioners.

Some of the more interesting cultivars include:


This dwarf cultivar has blue-green needles frosted with gold. It should be grown where it gets good morning sun and some shade from the hot afternoon sun to keep it from burning. 'Goldilocks' grows slowly to eight feet tall with a comparable spread.

'Ogon Janome'

This is a dragon's-eye form with bright gold bands on green needles. This broadly upright cultivar will grow ten feet tall and six feet wide in ten years. The common name is Golden Bulls-eye Pine.


This dwarf cultivar has light pink candles that open to white new growth, giving a tricolor effect. It has a globular to pyramidal growth habit, and should be given shade from the hot afternoon sun. It will grow to two-and-a-half feet tall and wide in ten years.