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Veitch Fir foliage

Some Favorite Trees in the Washington Park Arboretum's Japanese Garden

    Certain tea garden trees draw my admiring attention, stir my blood and quicken my energy. First to be seen inside the gate is the soft blue spire of a Japanese Alpine Fir (Abies Veitchii), a tall slender tree, silvery gray-barked, its dense whorls of short branches decked out with needles dark green on top and bright whitish underneath (AS IN THE ABOVE PHOTO). The crushed needles smell wonderfully resinous. Though far from its homeland mountains of Japan, this specimen thrives bravely and is far more attractive than many of its Seattle peers.
    A bit northeast, right next to the brown fence that shields us from the roaring blight of the road, stands an altogether different kind of conifer: an aged, lofty White Pine (Pinus Strobus) from Back East, one of the early Olmsted survivors planted along the boulevard over 80 years ago. Its craggy, weatherbeaten appearance suggests a long-standing, tough battle of existence. But for many years it was just another white pine, however. Then the violent 1981 Thanksgiving Day storm crashed to the earth a nearby native Cottonwood of mammoth size (its trunk over 4.5 feet thick). The giant tree totally flattened the garden fence, snapped apart an Olmsted-planted English Oak 15 inches in diameter, completely shattered a Douglas Fir, mashed miscellaneous shrubs, and shaved from the white pine fully three-forths of its branches!
    A third conifer, of neither beauty nor grand size, yet interesting because it is rare here and curious, is a little Black Spruce not far from a Silver Maple southeast of the pond. Black Spruce (Picea mariana) is not found elsewhere in the arboretum, despite our having an extensive spruce collection, because trees formerly so labeled were recently discovered to be actually Red Spruces (P. rubens).
    Now, if Black Spruces were not so rare here, I might try testing the old-time recipe for spruce beer, formerly a Far North beverage of good repute. Or might use the boughs for an informal outdoors mattress, again in the spartan tradition of fur traders and early campers. The species spans the continent, from Alaska and the Pacific to Newfoundland and the Atlantic; some of its dwarf and bluish garden varieties are perfect landscape trees.
    It's amusing to see this tiny Canadian spruce in the Japanese Garden.
    More appropriate, surely, are native Japanese trees. The tea garden has dozens, including conifers, deciduous hardwoods such as maples and cherries, and broadleaf evergreens such as hollies and some oaks. Among the most conspicuous is a beautiful Bamboo-leaf Oak (Quercus myrsin¾folia), of which Brian Mulligan wrote in the Summer 1983 Arboretum Bulletin. The tea garden example is superbly healthy and handsome year-round, and is 30 years old, though has lived in the northwest corner of the garden only since 1966. With its nodding, slender evergreen foliage, the Bamboo-leaf Oak is too rare for its merits. Near it are other interesing evergreen oaks: Q. gilva and Q. nubium.
    Maples in November's fiery fall color are not to be missed, nor cherries heavily laden with April bloom. But a stranger, less generally appreciated color change is that evinced by the plume form of the "Sugi" or Japanese Red Cedar: Cryptomeria japonica f. elegans. By the west fence of the garden is one of Seattle's tallest. Its summer color is a subdued gray-green, which changes dramatically in winter to a purplish-brown which really looks dead to some people! Then in spring the new growth puffs out softly, looking very enchanting. "Yawara Sugi" is what the Japanese call this tree.
    Many other trees than the mere five just noted, await our pleasure in the garden. It is well stocked with intriging diversity. Behind every tree is a story. Every story we learn enriches our lives.

(originally published in the Summer 1990 Washington Park Arboretum Bulletin, pages 8-9)

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Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert

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