Because Japan is situated on a long narrow archipelago, the country enjoys a wide diversity of climates. As a result, Japan has an extensive range of plants. According to Botanic Gardens Conservation International, Japan has more than 7,000 plants that are considered native, such as ferns, seed plants and other vegetation with vascular systems. Japanese gardens are known for flowering trees and shrubs, such as azaleas, which are a common plant in most Japanese gardens, according to Sukiya Living Magazine.
Mixed forests of fir, spruce and pines are found in Japan’s boreal or extreme northern forests, located on Hokkaido. Alpine plants grow on the high elevations of Honshu and Shikoku, according Biodiversity Hotspots. Subtropical forests with broadleaf plants and mangrove swamps are found in southern Japan. Subtropical island chains in the southern part of the country include plants that differ from the country’s main islands.
The cherry tree (Sakura) produces a blossom that serves as the official symbol and national flower of Japan. The Japanese plum (Ume) is a plant that blooms several weeks before the cherry blooms. The blossoms of this plant are an early signal of spring, according to Japan Guide. Japanese maple (Momiji) trees are known for producing brilliant autumn colors and are a popular decorative tree in Japanese gardens.
Bamboo plants have more uses than any other Japanese plant. For example, evergreen bamboos have been used in arts and crafts as well as in construction for centuries. These plants are a favorite spring delicacy. Pine (Natsu) trees, grown year-round, stand for longevity and youth, besides serving as decorative garden plants.
Garden layout and pruning are usually thought to be more important that selecting a particular plant, according to the Rotheien website. Although Japan has numerous plants, there aren’t many plants in a typical Japanese garden. Usually, there are only about 12 types of plants. Although the plant palette is limited in a Japanese garden, this doesn’t restrict the beauty of the garden. Fewer colors and textures actually add to an atmosphere of harmony and unification.
The Japanese spirea can be an invasive, aggressive plant when it grows in a temperate, damp environment, warns Floridata. Listed on The Plant Conservation Alliance list as an alien invader, this plant can nudge out border companions as it tries to creep into lawns. Japanese spireas are known for taking over disturbed areas quickly and invading nearby forest openings and meadows. They grow quickly once they’re established and take over native vegetation.
History and Significance
Since Japan’s beginnings, plants have held a special place, as depicted in Japanese paintings, Shinto shrines and poetry. In fact, the subject of plants has remained the most dominant motif in Japanese literature from its ancient writings to contemporary times, according to “Plants in Early Japanese Poetry,” a Harvard University publication. The “Kojiki” and the “Manyoshu,” which are the oldest Japanese books, contain numerous accounts about early attitudes Japanese people held regarding the uses of particular plants.