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Known for its resilience against salt and wind, the hardy Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii) is native to coastal areas of Japan and South Korea. It can be found growing on dunes along coastlines, acting as an important defense against erosion.

While the tree was historically a source of lumber in Japan, it’s no longer logged today. Instead, the Japanese black pine has become an icon in the traditional Japanese garden, trained as “niwaki,” into classic bonsai shapes, as well as appearing in untrained forms as an overstory tree. Niwaki is the Japanese name for “garden tree” – in particular, for trees that provide strong structure in the garden, or “sculpting trees.”

Unlike Western gardeners who tend to use a wide variety of plants, traditional Japanese gardeners prefer to limit the number of species and focus on creating a natural effect and calming atmosphere. By applying techniques of niwaki, Japanese gardeners use the art of pruning to bring out the true nature of the tree. The Japanese black pine is often sculpted to look much older than it really is, with a broad trunk and beautifully twisted branches.