Horticulture Highlight: Pinus bungeana

November 30, 2011

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars
of light…          
-Mary Oliver                                               

One unusual tree that literally may fulfill Oliver’s poetic imagery is Pinus bungeana, lacebark pine. This has the most beautiful bark among all of the over one-hundred different species of world-wide pines, which occur primarily in the Northern Hemisphere. Native to China it was named to honor Alexander Bunge (1803-1890), the Russian botanist and explorer who first sighted it growing in a temple garden in Beijing in 1831 (the year of Mount Auburn’s founding).

Cultivated in China for centuries in palaces and Buddhist temples, poetically referred to by some as white dragons, individual trees are reputed to be over 800, 900 and 1000 years-old.  The slow-growing lacebark pine’s colorful exfoliating bark actually progresses through chameleon-like changes. In youth the bark often exhibits olive green, yellow, reddish-brown and gray mottled hues. Older trees may develop more bark the color of milk interspersed with gray and brown. Mid-twentieth-century novelist Ann Bridge (1889-1974) who lived and wrote from China described a historic specimen: “…over it rose an immense white pine, its snowy trunk and branches shining among the great trusses of dark-green needles. The white pine is the most improbable of trees-too good to be true; it is impossible to believe at first that some ingenious Chinese has not sandpapered its smooth trunk and boughs, and then given it several coats of whitewash.” 

The 2 to 4″ long evergreen needles occur in fascicles (a close cluster) of threes. Its egg-shaped cones are 2 to 3″ long containing seeds 1/3″ long attached to a short wing.  In cultivation the lacebark pine may grow 30 to 50′ but as a slow-grower we may be providing our children and grandchildren with its true arboreal grandeur, its spectacular bark. No other pine has anything like it.

On your next visit to Mount Auburn look for our lacebark pines growing on Elm Avenue, Magnolia Avenue, Camellia Path, Vinca Path, Sibyl Path, and Ailanthus Path among other locations.

*This Horticulture Highlight was originally published in the February 2011 issue of the Freinds of Mount Auburn electronic newsletter.

 

About the Author: Jim Gorman

Visitor Services Assistant

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