‘The pine tree of the Enlightened One’


For bonsai-making, one would need a large pot, about 1.5 feet in diameter and two feet deep, to establish a tree that is good enough for artistic bending and pruning works. — Photo courtesy of Banting’s Nursery

THE popular ‘luoan song’ is highly regarded as a feng shui tree in Hong Kong.

Botanically categorised as Podocarpus microphylls, this conifer pine is native to China, but it can also be found in abundance in Japan, Myanmar and Taiwan.

Its other names include big-leaf podocarp (Taiwan), Japanese yew, yellow plum pine and Chinese yew pine.

The name ‘luoan song’, in Mandarin, refers to ‘arhat’ pine – one attributed to a Buddhist who has reached the level of enlightenment, worthy of attaining nirvana.

The family name comes from Greek’s ‘pous’ or ‘podos’, meaning ‘foot’, in view of its thick trunk. The tree has a high value – even higher when it is fashioned into a bonsai.

The plant has a dense upright shrub, able to reach a height of up to 20m and its trunk up to 60cm in diameter, but very often, the growth is kept to around 2m (six feet) tall.

The shrub’s upright narrow shape is good for tight spaces.

It is best grown in slightly acidic and well-drained soil as it is prone to developing chlorosis in alkaline soil and is also intolerant to wet land.

The leaves are about two to five inches in length, elongated and narrow. The new growth is fragrant, having bronze colour in some selections and would become dark green upon reaching maturity. The shrub has a brown bark that becomes flaky with age.


Pines belong to the original Gymnosperms that existed 160 million years ago during the Jurassic period; these vascular plants bore naked seeds.

As all conifer pine plants do not produce regular flowers, they have unusual and attractive cone structures.

Pines bear fruit-like structures that consist of blue, purple or red arils with one or two seeds measuring about a quarter of an inch in length.

A Podocarpus plant can be grown from a seed or a cutting – a cutting that is five inches long may take one-and-a-half or two months to germinate roots. Choose a site with good soil that is slightly acidic and with direct sunlight.

The plant should be watered regularly until its roots are well-established.

This pine is very resistant to many natural pests and diseases, although minor ones like scale insect’s mites, spots black leaf mould and nematodes may occasionally be found – still, these can be removed easily.

Manipulation and maintenance

For bonsai-making, we need to use a large pot, about 1.5 feet in diameter and two feet deep, to establish a tree that is good enough for artistic bending and pruning works. The shrub should be transferred to a bonsai pot once we have a sizeable stem, and also, we need to trim the roots for then to grow in the new medium.

Fertilise only when necessary as we do not want overgrowth. Watering and nutrient-provision can be limited accordingly.

For topiary or standards for displays in the garden, the shrub must be clipped for the corporation of the foliage as a ground ball on the stalk. We can create two or three tiers of round-shaped standard. Some may like to have them for indoor displays by placing them in light plastic containers.

For landscapes, these pines are used for border-marking, apart from being individual trees in the garden.

Beyond gardening, pine wood is a key source of materials for construction and also in other industries in the temperate countries.

As painstakingly long as they take to achieve that final design, many bonsai lovers regard the work as an artistic expression of creation.

There is this house near Hui Sing area where I used to go to obtain some plants for landscape purposes, where the owners really love to nurture and maintain the plants in beautiful shapes.

Happy gardening!