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Native to Japan, the Japanese umbrella pine, or Koyamaki, is the only surviving member of the group Sciadopityaceae. Commonly referred to as a pine, the Japanese umbrella pine is actually an evergreen conifer. This tree is incredibly slow to grow, adding around 6 inches (15 cm) per year. The Japanese umbrella pine reaches up to 114 feet (35 m). It has dense, deep green foliage with reddish-brown, heavily scented wood and produces cones that take around two years to reach maturity.
The Japanese umbrella pine has spirals of spines that have an almost plastic feel at the end of each shoot. These distinctive needle patterns give the tree its common name because they bear a resemblance to the spokes of a traditional Japanese umbrella. This species thrives in areas of high rainfall, moderate to high humidity and full sun. It is also resistant to most diseases and has no significant pests.
Originally covering much of the world, when the continents were still mostly one large land mass, the Japanese umbrella pine was to be found across the world, from Europe and Asia to North America. Fossil deposits indicate the presence of this species approximately 230 million years ago, along with several similar species. Of these species, the Japanese umbrella pine is the only one to survive. Now only surviving in the wild in the cloud forests of Japan, the Japanese umbrella pine grows between 1,500 feet (457 m) and 3,000 feet (914 m) above sea level.
This species has a long and fascinating history, being a truly ancient specimen. For this reason it is widely cultivated and highly prized by enthusiasts and collectors of unusual and historical specimens. The Japanese umbrella pine has two main historical uses. It was used to make boats, because it has a natural water resistance. The tree was also planted at shrines, sacred sites and places of worship.
The oldest known living specimen can be found at Jinguji Temple in Kyoto Prefecture and has been declared a national monument. The earliest records of this particular tree say the tree has been worshiped in its current location since around 1310. Despite the age of this particular specimen, it only stands at 88 feet (27 m). The very slow growth rate of the Japanese umbrella pine puts it at great risk, because it takes so many years to replace a tree that has been cut. For this reason, the specimen is rarely felled for the use of its wood any longer; a similar species that has a faster growth rate is now used instead.