Japanese tree species are often used as ornamental trees that add color, shape, and texture to gardens and landscapes. Japanese tree species can range from dwarfs that are under 6 feet tall to full-sized trees that can reach 25 feet or more. The right tree for your landscape will depend on your climate, space, and desire for symbolic landscape content.
Japanese trees are trees that are either native to or closely associated with the islands that make up in Japan. However, many trees called Japanese are also native to parts of Korea and China because of similar climate. For example, Japanese cherries are part of cherry blossom festivals from Guangzhou, China to Jinhae, Korea and many parts of Japan.
Japanese tree species include Acers, or maples, and Prunus, which include ornamental cherries, plum, apricot and almond trees. One variety of flowering Japanese cherry is Prunus serrulata. It can grow to 15 to 25 feet tall and wide. Another is Prunus subhirtella, which can grow to 40 feet tall. Acer palmatum is a species of maple native to Japan. It can reach 25 feet tall and 25 feet wide.
Many trees in Japan have symbolic significance. Cherry trees and their blossoms symbolize the Buddhist concept of the short, transitory nature of life. Traditional Japanese ideals of simplicity and purity are also found in the simple, colorful blossoms. Deeper red blooms are symbolic of the blood spilled by warriors. Although not as symbolic directly, Japanese maples are often used in bonsai as part of the Zen ideal of pruning out everything unnecessary to survival.
Aside from the misconception that Japanese trees are only native to Japan, other common misconceptions include where the trees will grow and how much care they require. Japanese maples and Japanese cherries and plums will grow in a number of different climate zones. Depending on the variety, Japanese maples can grow well in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Hardiness Zones 4 through 9. Cherries can, depending on the variety, grow well in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 10.
The biggest consideration when growing a species of tree native to Japan is the climate. Some varieties will not survive very cold temperatures. If you live in a colder part of the United States, like USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 5, be sure to select a variety known to winter over in your area. The same rule applies to Japanese maples. In some cases, however, a Japanese maple or cherry may be grafted to a hardier root stock.