Friday, March 16, 2012

A Coniferous Contest

I once read that California was home to more species of conifers than any other similarly-sized area in the world. Hmm… My mind raced around the globe…to New Zealand…to China--but that doesn't count because the area is much larger--to Japan. Ha! Japan. I'll bet Japan, similarly sized, has more species than California. I decided to champion Japan. My wife is from Japan, and besides, more species and cultivars of plants of importance to my business and gardening pleasure come from Japan. To some degree we Oregonians loathe California, and never cheer for it to be the champion of anything. That's not fair of course: California has wonderful cities and scenery and obviously, many excellent conifers. Actually we just don't like Californians.

I regret that I can't remember where I read the claim for California, but I had an urge to prove it wrong. I began a side-by-side list of all the species I could think of, and the two went neck-to-neck down the page. After being stuck for a few minutes, I noticed that my Hillier's Manual of Trees and Shrubs was squirming with hand raised, anxious to be of importance. And indeed, this chunky encyclopedia has never been shelved; for my entire career it has sat atop my desk, well-thumbed and used nearly every day. (My only gripe is Hillier's spelling of Picea brewerana, when the rest of the world spells it breweriana).

But anyway, now I could systematically record the species from these two provinces. Soon, however, I realized that it wasn't so easy. Nomenclatural splitting or lumping issues arose. Do I count Juniperus japonica as a species, or does it fall under x media (as in 'Plumosa')? Is Pseudotsuga macrocarpa a separate species from menziesii? I tried to be fair about those details, and beginning with Abies I again began my compilation.

Japan took the lead at the get-go, with more Abies species…but yikes: all those Californian Cupressus. Then of course the Californian Pinus. Occasionally I consulted Keith Rushforth's Conifers to see if a species crept into California, like Abies amabilis, and yes it does. In the end I totaled 38 species from Japan and 45 from California. No doubt I have overlooked a couple, and you can check the list below. But it is certain the claim for California is valid. A (C) after the plant name denotes from California, a (J) denotes from Japan.

Abies magnifica (C)
Abies firma (J)

Calocedrus decurrens (C)
Cupressus bakeri ssp. matthewsii (C)

Cupressus macrocarpa (C)

Chamaecyparis obtusa (J)

Cryptomeria japonica (J)

Juniperus communis (C)

Juniperus rigida (J)

Picea breweriana (C)

Picea breweriana (C)

Picea polita (J)

Picea polita (J)

Pinus contorta (C)

Pinus densiflora (J)
Pinus coulteri (C)

Pinus jeffreyi (C)

Pinus jeffreyi (C)

Pinus longaeva (C)

Pinus parviflora (J)

Pinus monophylla (C)

Pinus parviflora (J)

Pinus ponderosa (C)

Pinus ponderosa (C)

Pinus thunbergii (J)

Pinus pumila (J)

Pseudotsuga japonica (J)

Pseudotsuga menziesii (C)

Sciadopitys verticillata (J)

Sciadopitys verticillata (J)

Sequoia sempervirens (C)
Sequoiadendron giganteum (C)

Taxus brevifolia (C)
Thuja plicata (C)

Thujopsis dolabrata (J)
Tsuga diversifolia (J)

Tsuga mertensiana (C)

Ok, California is the winner, and really the people aren't so bad. Nearly every year I visit once or twice, admiring plants in the wild or in collections. I have seen most of the species in the wild, and California certainly is a great state for plants. Besides, they recently renamed the largest tree in the world, formerly known as the General Sherman Redwood, in my nursery's honor.

Sequoiadendron giganteum (C)

From California
From Japan
Abies amabilis
Abies firma
Abies bracteata
Abies homolepis
Abies grandis
Abies mariesii
Abies magnifica
Abies sachalinensis
Calocedrus decurrens
Abies sikokiana
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana
Abies veitchii
Cupressus abramsiana
Cephalotaxus harringtonia
Cupressus bakeri ssp. matthewsii
Chamaecyparis obtusa
Cupressus forbesii
Chamaecyparis pisifera
Cupressus goveniana
Cryptomeria japonica
Cupressus lusitanica
Juniperus chinensis
Cupressus macnabiana
Juniperus communis
Cupressus macrocarpa
Juniperus conferta
Cupressus sargentii
Juniperus rigida
Cupressus stephensonii
Juniperus sargentii
Juniperus californica
Larix gmelini japonica
Juniperus communis
Larix kaempferi
Picea breweriana
Picea bicolor
Picea sitchensis
Picea glehnii
Pinus albicaulis
Picea jezoensis
Pinus attenuata
Picea koyamae
Pinus monophylla
Picea maximowiczii
Pinus contorta
Picea polita
Pinus coulteri
Pinus densiflora
Pinus flexilis
Pinus luchuensis
Pinus jeffreyi
Pinus parviflora
Pinus lambertiana
Pinus pumila
Pinus longaeva
Pinus thunbergii
Pinus monticola
Podocarpus macrophyllus
Pinus muricata
Podocarpus nagi
Pinus ponderosa
Pseudotsuga japonica
Pinus quadrifolia
Sciadopitys verticillata
Pinus radiata
Taxus cuspidata
Pinus sabiniana
Thujopsis dolabrata
Pinus torreyana
Thuja standishii
Pinus washoensis
Torreya nucifera
Pseudotsuga macrocarpa
Tsuga diversifolia
Pseudotsuga menziesii
Tsuga sieboldii
Sequoia sempervirens

Sequoiadendron giganteum

Taxus brevifolia

Thuja plicata

Torreya californica

Tsuga heterophylla

Tsuga mertensiana


  1. Talon,

    What a wonderful comparison. I also find it interesting how closely genera match each other from the two sides of the Pacific. I am surprised there isn't a Larix native to California.
    On a side note, if I view the lists correctly, California has 4 genera not found in Japan, and Japan has 6 genera not found in California.

    Please continue to entertain and educate us with your wonderful blogs.

    Steve Lesch
    Landscape Designs, WI

  2. I can understand why they renamed "the General", the species does resemble your ego