Gardens & Conservatory

Plants & Collections

Ornamental pines adorn the landscape year-round

By Tom Brinda and Lynn Kirk, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Published December 2008 in the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Winter is an ideal time to examine the essence of your landscape, without the distraction of leafy trees and flowering shrubs. If you discover a sunny, well-drained spot in need of year-round appeal, consider an ornamental pine.

Of the more than 200 Pinus species, the majority of these coniferous evergreens are harvested for their commercial value – for lumber, pulp, turpentine and this time of year, for holiday decoration. The primary purpose of ornamentals, however, is to enhance the landscape with beauty. Many ornamental pine specimens are truly eye-catching, and since smaller than forest trees, most fit well in the residential landscape. When selecting one, consider the following.

Dragon’s Eye Pine (P. densiflora ‘Oculus-draconis’) earns its name from the distinctive yellow bands on its otherwise green needles. When viewed from above, the needles’ variegated rings of color resemble a dragon’s eyes. Basically a slow grower, the Dragon’s Eye pine reaches only 10 feet in height over a period of 10 years. It is prized by floral designers for its unique color, which is best demonstrated when yellow-leaved plants are planted nearby.

The uniqueness of the Lace Bark Pine (P. bungeana) stems from its flaking bark which presents a patchwork of color, usually white with red-brown, gray and green underneath. The upright, oval form has multiple trunks that show off its color. Though the Lace Bark can grow up to 40 feet tall, dwarf cultivars are available for rock gardens and landscape accents.
As suggested by its name, the distinctive feature of the Weeping Japanese Red Pine (P. densiflora 'Pendula') is its drooping habit. When growing naturally, its prostrate form will mound up with age into a weeping, contorted shape that spreads in width versus height. The tree can be trained, however, to cascade over low walls. Its long, dark green needles against orange-red branches provide additional appeal.

These attractive ornamentals – and many other specimens - can be viewed at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, primarily in the Asian Valley.

  • Most pines prefer full sun, sandy soil and excellent drainage.
  • Many of our best-loved ornamental pines originated in Japan, China and Korea.
  • Dragon’s Eye needles are quite striking!
  • Japanese Weeping Pine demonstrates a drooping form.