Among the newly acquired trees in Marquand park is a small Sciadopitys verticillata, commonly called a Japanese umbrella pine. Entering the park from the parking lot, you will find this tree by following the path that runs along the wooded area and ice house and then by veering left towards Marquand House and Stockton street where the path splits into two directions. The tree is in the lawn area on the left side of the path just after the split in the road.
The Japanese umbrella pine is not really a pine but the only member of a plant family called Sciadopityacreae. The tree can be easily recognized by clusters of 20 to 30 dark green needles that spiral out in a pattern resembling the ribs of an umbrella. Although the needles conduct photosynthesis, they are not the actual leaves of the tree. Hard-to-observe scale-like leaves are distributed below each cluster of needles along the shoot. The fruits or cones of the umbrella pine have thick and chunky looking scales and take two years to mature. The tree has a pyramidal shape when young and start looking more like a white pine when it matures. It is a slow growing tree.
Carl Thunberg, the Swedish botanist, first described the umbrella pine in his Flora Japonica (1784) after observing the tree in Japan and mistakenly classifying it as a Taxus. Franz von Siebold also saw the umbrella pine during his stay in Japan and meticulously illustrated its characteristics. He gave the tree its current name.
On the heels of the opening of Japan to trade with the rest of the world, a great number of Western plants men traveled to Japan in search of new garden species. Von Siebold returned to Japan in 1859 after having been expelled by the Japanese in 1829 but was soon pressured to return home again. Others were Robert Fortune who traveled to Japan on behalf of the Horticultural Society of London and the Scottish nurseryman John Gordon Veitch. An American physician by the name of George Rogers Hall from Rhode Island, who operated a small hospital in Shanghai, also made trips to Japan in search of new garden plants. It is possible that Hall, Fortune, and Veitch exchanged plant material and worked collaboratively on shipments home while in Japan because several tree species such as the Magnolia stellata and the Sciadopitys verticillata were introduced by them in Britain and the United States about the same time.
Hall sent his first shipment of Japanese plants to Boston in 1861 where they were cared for by the experienced horticulturist Francis Parkman. A year later, Hall himself brought home a second shipment of plants and seeds which he entrusted to the nursery Parsons & Co in Flushing’s, NY. Both shipments included Japanese umbrella pines. Soon thereafter, the Sciadopitys verticillata started to appear in horticultural and nursery literature. An umbrella pine is mentioned in the famous garden of Mr. Hunnewell of Boston in 1865 and Dr Hall himself was growing one in his garden in Bristol, RI. Richard S. Field, the first owner of Marquand Park, listed a Japanese umbrella pine as a “new tree” in an essay entitled: Our Evergreen Trees and Their Cultivation in 1867. Field does not mention where he acquired his tree but may have bought a sapling cultivated at the Parson’s nursery. This assumption is strengthened by the fact that Richard Field lists two other newly acquired trees, the Thuiopsis dolobrata and the Thuiopsis varietgata. These two trees were also part of the second shipment of plants sent by Roger Hall from Japan.
The Sciadopitys verticillata planted by Field maybe the same as the umbrella pine mentioned by Eleanor Marquand in the tree inventory of 1917. She also does mentioned a second one close to the Lily pond. But then, there is no mention of a Japanese umbrella tree in the Marquand park collection until it’s name appeared on a list of 50 recommended trees put together by Roland Machold and Robert Wells in 2015. A year later, members of the Foundation located and bought a small umbrella tree in a nursery outside of Princeton. The tree was planted in the park in the same year.