Origin and Distribution
The umbrella fir (bot. Sciadopitys verticillata) is the only member of the umbrella fir family (bot. Sciadopityaceae) and is distantly related to the various pine species - after all, botanists assign the species to the order of the pine-like (bot. Pinales). Millions of years ago there were probably other species of umbrella fir, which were also widespread in Central Europe and made a significant contribution to the development of today's lignite.
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However, only the umbrella fir, which is native to southern Japan, is left of this. There the species grows in the cloud forests, which are characterized by high levels of precipitation and high humidity, at altitudes between 500 and 1000 meters. The very slow growing trees can get very old and become quite powerful in their home with stature heights of up to 40 meters and trunk diameters of up to three meters.
Since the umbrella fir is one of the five sacred trees in Japan, it is also often found in temple complexes. Nonetheless, the species is considered threatened with extinction - and is therefore on the International Red List of Endangered Plants - as faster-growing tree species are preferred for economic reasons for afforestation and new plantings.
The wood of the umbrella fir is water-resistant - and that's why it is traditionally used in Japan to build boats, houses and furniture. The typical Japanese hot tub, for example, has been made from umbrella fir wood for centuries.
In the home garden, however, the conspicuous conifer should be in a prominent, solitary position where it can optimally develop its visual effect. The umbrella fir fits particularly well in Asian-style garden landscapes, where it protrudes between flat shrubs, grasses or bushes, for example. The Japanese maple in particular, but also rhododendrons and azaleas or the Japanese spindle bush harmonize wonderfully with the magical umbrella fir. Furthermore, she feels very comfortable in gravel or heather gardens, where her shape comes into its own. Smaller varieties such as the 'Green Ball' or 'Piccola' also thrive in larger planters.
Appearance and stature
The umbrella fir is an evergreen and very slowly growing conifer, which increases on average between 20 and 25 centimeters per year. Although the tree can reach heights of up to 40 meters in its Japanese homeland, even under favorable growing conditions in Central Europe it can reach heights of no more than ten to twelve meters. In most cases, however, the local specimens do not grow taller than about six meters. The densely conical crown is up to four meters wide at its widest point, but tapers towards the tip. The tree forms one or more trunks and is heavily branched, so that a dense overall picture is created. The smooth, reddish-brown bark peels off in older trees in thin, long strips.
At the ends of the horizontally protruding branches sit up to ten centimeters long, green, shiny, soft and fleshy needles. These are arranged like an open whisk or umbrella - the umbrella fir owes its German name to this striking arrangement. In addition, scaly, inconspicuous short needles lie flat on the trunk.
Blossoms and flowering period
The umbrella fir is a monoecious plant, which means that there are both male and female flowers on a single tree. The male flowers appear one year before the female in the form of small tufts of balls on the shoots, the female, however, only appear between April and May of the following year.
The cones, which are typical of many conifers, are only formed very late in the umbrella fir - the up to eleven centimeters long and upright fruit housings can only be seen at an age of 25 years or more. These are still green in the first year, but gradually turn dark brown during the ripening process in the second year. Each individual cone can contain up to 150 flat seeds that are up to twelve millimeters long and winged.
The umbrella fir is not poisonous and can therefore be safely planted in gardens with playing children or pets.
Which location is suitable?
When it comes to the ideal location, the umbrella fir is quite demanding: the tree feels most comfortable in a sunny to partially shaded place, which, however, must neither be hot nor too unprotected. The wood, which is used to high humidity, can only tolerate heat and scorching sun if the soil is appropriately moist. Wind, on the other hand, should be avoided, as young specimens in particular are very sensitive to strong drafts. Therefore a light location protected from the wind - for example in a depression - is perfect. However, avoid planting in front of a white south wall or wall, here the tree will quickly get too warm.
Soil / substrate
As in its natural habitat, the umbrella fir prefers a well-drained, but still moist, nutrient-rich soil in the garden. Ideally, this is sandy-humic, as heavy soils tend to waterlogging and growth in loamy soils is very slow - despite its high moisture requirement, the tree does not tolerate waterlogging and reacts with root rot. The umbrella fir also does not like prolonged drought (for example during hot summer days) and calcareous soils and reacts quickly to corresponding conditions with discolored needles. The soil must not dry out, especially in sunny locations.
The umbrella fir feels most comfortable anyway in a bog bed with ferns, azaleas and rhododendrons. Specimens cultivated in pots should therefore be placed in rhododendron soil or in humus-containing potting soil.
Plant umbrella fir correctly
The Japanese umbrella fir is available in stores either as a pot or as a ball. Potted plants can be planted all year round, as long as the ground isn't frozen or it's not too hot (and therefore very dry) during the summer months. Both affect the healthy growth of the young trees. Bale goods, on the other hand, are best placed in the ground between October and April in mild weather. Make sure you plant enough space from the start, as umbrella fir trees can get very tall with age - even if they grow slowly and therefore initially look like small bushes.
And this is how it is planted:
- select a suitable location
- Dig up the planting site and loosen the soil
- if necessary, provide for soil improvement
- Enhance the soil with sand, compost and / or bog soil, for example
- Dig the planting hole
- this should be twice as deep and wide as the root ball
- Place the tree with the root ball in a bucket of water
- Let the roots soak in moisture
- Hold the umbrella fir in the planting hole and fill in soil
- The root ball should be at the same height as the garden soil or end with it
- Press the earth lightly
- pour vigorously
Then the root area should be provided with a three to five centimeter thick layer of mulch so that the moisture stays in the soil longer.
How do I transplant properly?
Since the umbrella fir belongs to the shallow-root group - and therefore does not develop a deep taproot - and it also grows very slowly, it can still be implemented in later years. However, take such a measure preferably in the cool season and not necessarily during the hot summer months, so that the tree does not suffer from a lack of water. Dig up the rhizome carefully and generously so that as few roots as possible are damaged. Then make sure that there is an abundant water supply so that the umbrella fir can quickly grow in its new location.
Water the umbrella fir
Never let the soil dry out completely, especially in the weeks after planting and during the summer months. Make sure that there is an even water supply even for planted specimens, but avoid waterlogging at all costs. Since umbrella firs are sensitive to lime, use collected rainwater or filtered tap water if possible.
Fertilize umbrella fir properly
Regular fertilization is basically not necessary. However, if you have the impression that the umbrella fir looks dull, the needles may turn yellow (and there are no other causes behind it), then you can provide the tree with compost or a pine fertilizer. The best month for this measure is April, so that the plant can then grow vigorously.
Cut the umbrella fir correctly
Since the umbrella fir naturally develops an even and dense conical growth, you should not disturb it by pruning. The secateurs or saw can therefore remain in the shed.
Propagate umbrella fir
Propagating the umbrella fir by hand is not that easy and also requires a lot of patience - after all, as already mentioned, it is a very slow-growing tree. You can choose between propagation via seeds and vegetative propagation via cuttings.
In order for you to be able to harvest ripe seeds from your own tree, it must be at least 25 years old - the umbrella fir will not bloom or fruit beforehand. However, you can purchase germinable seeds from specialist shops and use them for sowing. In April, lay out the flat seeds in a box filled with growing substrate (9.05 € at Amazon *) and cover this with a translucent lid. Keep the substrate slightly moist and be patient: germination begins after 100 to 120 days at the earliest - and after another two growing seasons, the young plants are usually only three to four centimeters high.
The production of new young plants via cuttings works a little faster, although the vegetative form of propagation is not always successful. To do this, cut about ten centimeters long, half-ripe shoots in June or July and grow them in a nursery box under foil or another cover.
The umbrella fir is hardy in the right location and therefore does not need any additional protection. Only young trees react very sensitively to late frosts that occur in spring and should be protected from this with a thick layer of leaves and mulch.
Diseases and pests
Diseases and pests rarely occur in the umbrella fir. Only young trees are occasionally attacked by spider mites, otherwise any abnormalities are usually due to location or care errors.
What to do about yellow or brown needles?
If the needles turn yellow or brown, for example, there are always problems with the location or inadequate care. Many causes can be responsible for the discoloration of the needle:
- strong sunlight (especially around noon)
- Lack of nutrients, often nitrogen
- Potassium deficiency is common on sandy soils
- Soil is chalky or loamy
- Over-fertilization (then also the needles are often shed / baldness occurs)
Almost all causes can be remedied by moving the tree or replacing the potting soil. It will then recover and sprout green needles.
The winter hardiness of a young umbrella fir can be improved by giving Epsom salt.
Species and varieties
There is only one type of umbrella fir, but there are now some established cultivars in front of it. However, these are significantly smaller than the actual species:
- 'Green sphere': spherical growth form with short needles, reaches a maximum height of 80 centimeters within ten years
- 'Piccola': pyramid-like growth, becomes a little higher after ten years at around 100 centimeters
- 'Koja-Maki': conical growth, reaches a height of up to three meters
- 'Shooting star': slender, but extremely slow growth, after 25 years only about 250 centimeters high
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