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line drawing

Line drawing from the Flora of China (Wu and Raven 1999).

scanned plant

Ornamental specimen growing by Green Lake, Seattle, Washington [C.J. Earle, 2017.01.28].

scanned plant

Shoot of an ornamental specimen (Seattle, WA) showing foliage and twig [C.J. Earle, 1999.02.28].


Bark of an ornamental specimen in Seattle (USA) [C.J. Earle, 1999.02.28].


Cone from an ornamental specimen in Seattle (USA) [C.J. Earle, 2004.01.12].

scanned plant

Tanyosho pine (a Pinus densiflora cultivar grafted to an unknown rootstock) at Green Lake, Seattle, Washington [C.J. Earle, 2017.01.28].

scanned plant

Cones of the Tanyosho pine (a Pinus densiflora cultivar grafted to an unknown rootstock) at Green Lake, Seattle, Washington [C.J. Earle, 2017.01.28].


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Conservation status

Pinus densiflora

Siebold et Zuccarini 1842

Common names

アカマツ aka-matsu [Japanese] (Ohwi 1965); 赤松 [Chinese]; 소나무 [Korean]; Сосна густоцветная [Russian]; Japanese red pine.

Taxonomic notes

Three varieties:

Wu and Raven (1999) provide a key to the varieties and descriptions of each.


A straight to contorted (particularly in coastal settings) tree up to 36m tall, with an open, irregular or umbrella-shaped crown. Lower branches shed early even in open settings. Bark red-brown, in large plates (on old trees) or flaky and papery. Branches grey-green, rapidly becoming smooth with age, developing papery reddish bark. Leaves green, pliable, 2 per fascicle, sheaths retained, 8-12 cm long, 0.7-1.2 mm wide, acute, with minute marginal teeth, stomata in lines on all surfaces; retained in bunches at ends of twigs. Pollen cones small, ellipsoidal, pale yellow or yellow-brown, at end of shoots. Seed cones conic-ovoid, tan to golden brown, 4-7 cm long, in whorls of 2-5 at branch nodes, remaining closed and attached for several years, on a 1-3 mm long somewhat flexible peduncle. Cone scales: about 50 scales may contain fertile seed; cuneate, the exposed part flattened, rhomboidal with a central, short-mucronate umbo; the concealed part a dark red-brown. Seeds with attached wing 10-17 mm long (Ohwi 1965, Farjon 1984).

Distribution and Ecology

China (Shandong, Jiangsu), Korea, Japan (S Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoko, Kyushu), and Russia: rare in southern Ussuriland on rocky slopes at 0-500 m or sandy soils, seashores, Khanka Lake islands (Harkevich and Kachura 1981, Vladimir Dinets e-mail 1998.01.10). Var. funebris found in Korea; China & Russia: Manchuria, N Ussuriland and Amur Valley (Vladimir Dinets e-mail 1998.01.10), where it grows from sea level to 600 m (Farjon 1984). It occurs from the coast into the lower mountains, sometimes reaching to 2300 m elevation (Ohwi 1965, Farjon 1984). Hardy to Zone 5 (cold hardiness limit between -28.8°C and -23.3°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001; variety not specified).

Fires typically kill trees of Pinus densiflora, but it can quickly establish and attain dominance in the aftermath of a severe fire. Likely due to this regeneration potential, it is also a good example of a species that has been favored by human disturbance; in Japan, it was an uncommon species before about 2500 BP, when human disturbance was minimal and severe fires were infrequent. Red pine becomes prominent in the fossil pollen record at about the time that agriculture becomes widespread, and its spread in Japan is strongly correlated with the rise of agriculture (Agee 1998, Kremenetsi et al. 1998).

Big tree




Historically, this has been one of the most important species used in Japanese architecture. The principal structural woods in most surviving structures of the Muromachi period (14th to 16th Centuries) and the Edo period (1603-1867) are Pinus densiflora and P. thunbergii, although surviving structures also contain a great deal of Chamaecyparis obtusa (Takao 2004).

Besides following agriculture as a 'weedy' species, it is also one of the more popular ornamental pines, used as such in Japan since ancient times and now widely planted in Europe and North America.



I have seen an ornamental cultivar, 'umbraculifera', that bears small (3-4 cm long) cones in whorled clusters of 20-30 cones.


Agee, J. 1998. Fire and pine ecosystems, pp. 193-218 in Richardson 1998.

Harkevich, S. and N. Kachura. 1981. Rare Plant Species of The Soviet Far East and Their Conservation. Nauka, Moscow (in Russian).

Kremenetsi et al. 1998. Late Quaternary dynamics of pines in northern Asia, pp. 95-106 in Richardson 1998.

Li De-Zhu. 1997. A reassessment of Pinus subgen. Pinus in China. Edinburgh Journal of Botany 54(3): 337-349.

Siebold, P.F. von and J.G. Zuccarini. 1842. Flora Japonica sive plantae, ... Leiden. Vol. 2(3), p. 22, t. 112.

Takao, Itoh. 2004. Architectural development of the Japanese house and wood species used for construction., accessed 2009.08.24.

See also

Last Modified 2017-08-13