Christmas trees

Not exactly a snow-covered pine when I photographed it in Tokyo last month, this tree is, however, worth making a fuss about.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

Planted in 1709 in the Hamarikyu Gardens at the mouth of the Sumida River, it is one of the largest black pines (kuromatsu, literally ‘black pine’) in Tokyo. Pinus thunbergii naturally grew along the shores of the inlets and Tokyo Bay but are being threatened by diseases and insects (click on the link for the Latin name to read a great profile of the trees).

The 25ha garden, which is also known as Hama Detached Palace Garden, was originally built in 1654 (the Edo Period) as a retreat for the shogun’s family, who also hunted duck here, and later served as a strolling garden and an imperial detached palace. Vestiges of these old roles are still visible including reconstructed duck hunting blinds and the remains of a seawater moat.

Former US president Ulysses S Grant stayed in a villa in the gardens in 1879 and had green tea in the Nakajima teahouse which sits beside and over a saltwater pond that fluctuates with the tides. However, all the original buildings and almost all of the original plantings (except our tree) were destroyed by fire after an American bombing raid on November 29, 1944. The teahouse has been rebuilt as an exact replica and reopened on April 1, 1946.

Being more than 300 years old means a helping hand is needed, in the form of branch supports, to keep the tree’s form. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read a great blog post about the gardens as a whole and through the seasons here.

Richard Primack and Tatsuhiro Ohkubo have put together a marvellous resource on old and notable trees in Japan – read it here (pdf file) – although our black pine does not feature.

One tree I did see in Tokyo that came with its own ‘Christmas decorations’ was this Japanese yew, one of 209 planted as street trees in the upmarket shopping area of Ginza.

Taxus cuspidata or Japanese yew. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read more about Taxus cuspidata here.

And a very Merry Christmas (or happy holidays)  and a bountiful New Year to all my readers, wherever you may be! Stay safe, have fun and see you back here next year …

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