Sunday, April 3, 2016

Japanese Umbrella Pine Sketches

State Champion Japanese Umbrella Pine (Sciadopytis verticillata), pencil sketch, 10" x 8"

Ahh, spring! Yesterday on the way back from delivering my three pieces for the Art at the Mill spring 2016 show in Millwood, I decided to stop by the Virginia State Arboretum on my way home. It was such a fine spring day, I took along my sketch book, pencils and camera, thinking to sketch the Japanese Umbrella Pine in the garden that is rated a state champion for its size. I've been studying the trees at the Arboretum with an eye to producing a painting to submit for the ASBA show next year, and the Japanese Umbrella Pine there is certainly an unusual and beautiful tree.

State Champion Japanese Umbrella Pine

Its "needles" are arranged in whorls around its stems that curve gracefully in a manner reminiscent of an umbrella's spokes, hence the common name. Looking it up on-line I found that the "needles" are actually cladodes, which are botanically classified as stems, but function as leaves. The tree is the sole representative of its family and genus, and a living fossil native of Japan, where it is associated with old Shinto temples and an emblem of the Imperial family.

It was introduced to western cultivation in the 1860's and grows very slowly. This state champion at the Arboretum was probably planted after Mr. Blandy's death in 1926, when Dr. Orland White took over as Director of the Blandy Experimental Farm and started collecting plants for the arboretum. Over the years this tree has been engulfed by other gigantic evergreens in the conifer garden so that this was the only unobstructed view of the mature tree that showed the trunk and structure of the branches. I sketched this while standing up and did a detail of one branch and a cladode from a nearby bench. I looked but couldn't find any cones on the tree or on the ground.

Younger Japanese Umbrella Pine at the VA State Arboretum, pencil sketch, 10" x 8"

I asked a gentleman at the gift shop if he knew where in the garden another specimen of this tree might be found, since the Blandy Experimental Farm website's "Map It" page listed two specimens on the grounds. Bill didn't know, but he was so kind as to find a smart phone and use the app to find the second one in a less-visited portion of the garden. He walked me there and helped me to move one of the garden benches closer so I could sit comfortably to sketch, thus earning my gratitude and friendship.

This second tree was much younger, and still had the classic pyramidal conifer shape. The strong breeze animated its branches, giving my sketch a very lively look. Happily occupied, it wasn't until my sketch was almost finished that I noticed it was getting chillier as the shadows became longer. I looked at my watch: it was five o'clock! Time to head home with a good afternoon's work.