Native Plants in Japan
Japan presents extraordinary beauty in its rich, varied culture. Much of this culture centers on tranquility in nature. Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) states that out of 70,000 plant species, 2,900 of them are specifically native to Japan. As Japan continues to embrace its love of nature, a renewed interest in native Japanese plants expands, overflowing into other gardens of the world.
Shirane-Aoi, a flowering plant, grows wild among mountains in Japan, particularly Mt. Nikko-Shirane, from which the plant got its name. A perennial, its purple flowers arrive in June each year, but sadly, fewer and fewer are surviving. Instead, this native plant of Japan becomes food for local deer herds. As a result, the Shirane-Aoi Preservation Group surrounds the Shirane-Aoi with protection fences, keeping the area clean and hand-collecting seeds for planting.
Hakonechloa macra, also known as Japanese forest grass or Hakone grass, grows among Japanese mountains as well. The shade-loving plant prefers wet, rocky cliffs, spilling a tumble of leaves over itself almost like a waterfall. The ornamental grass contains tiny shoots, somewhat like bamboo but growing all in the same direction. Accent your water or Asian gardens by planting along a path or over rocks, usually in a somewhat shady area. Japanese forest grass makes a good container plant as well, as long as you move it to a cool, covered spot (for example, an unheated shed or garage) during the winter.
The native Japanese isogiku is actually a plant most known as the chrysanthemum. In an article in the Japan Times, rooftop environmental gardener Akemi Sugii devotes one section completely to native Japanese plants. According to Sugii, the Japanese enjoy a deep interest in gardening in general and interest in native plant gardening is growing. She states that the isogiku plant, among others--chosen for the beauty and shape of their flowers and leaves--have a quiet, calm beauty. The Isogiku, in particular, exhibits attractive white-rimmed leaves.
Sugii offers a tip when choosing hardy native Japanese plants, demonstrating how to look at the plant's name, which offers clues about it. For example, "iso" means "rocky shore." Consequently, the isogiku likely thrives in coastal winds, so planting them in containers in your balcony or city rooftop garden is acceptable.
The Japanese shrub Viburnum Furcatum thrives in damp woodlands throughout Japan. These shrubs grow easily as long as the soil is moist and lime-free. Flowers appear in May, but remain sterile because each flower must be pollinated by insects for seeds to appear in October. The shrub is not self-fertile. Able to withstand colder temperatures, the Viburnum Furcatum makes a hardy addition to your garden in shaded areas. Seeds take up to 18 months before being ready to grow. Once they become seedlings, put into small pots and place them in a greenhouse. From there, once a root system is established, you can plant the seedling and root ball (the tangle of roots at the bottom) in a permanent garden spot the following year.