Project officer Tom Christian and Peter Baxter, curator of Benmore Botanical Gardens in Argyll, were joined by colleadues from the Botanical gardens at Kew to collect seed and specimens from populations of rare and threatened conifers in Japan.

The expedition aimed to collect seed on location at Honshu and Shikoku, where populations of the endemic conifer Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata) ,which is near-threatened, and Japanese Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga japonica), which is classed as endangered are found. Other rare species such as the two highly threatened spruces, Picea koyame and Picea maximowiczii, were also targeted.

One of the best known examples of umbrella pine in Scotland grows in the Victorian pinetum at Scone Palace in Perthshire. Many species from temperate areas of Japan are extremely hardy and can easily cope with Perthshire’s cold winters and some, like the spruces and silver firs, actually seem to thrive on it.

It wasn’t until the 1860s that many Japanese plants became available in Europe. Since then, they have taken on a fundamental role in gardens in the UK and elsewhere around the world, with Japanese maples, cherries, birches, rhododendrons, and many herbaceous plants all having had a lasting impact on our gardens.

The Dukes of Atholl planted a relatively large number of Japanese trees, and many can still be seen in the grounds of Blair Castle and Dunkeld House Hotel, which had previously been part of the Atholl estates. ‘Japanese gardens’ were very popular in the last two centuries, and it is thought that one used to exist at Dunkeld. Scattered specimens of Japanese conifers can be seen in many locations.