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Woody > Pinus > Pinus thunbergii > Pinus thunbergii 'Thunderhead'

Pinus thunbergii


Thunderhead Japanese Black Pine

Origin:  Originally named Pinus thunbergii ‘Angelica’s Thunderhead’, this cultivar was first grown at Angelica Nurseries in Massachusetts, United States of America, when a unique plant was noticed among a group of seedlings. Later the name was shortened to ‘Thunderhead’ (The Tree Center, 2021).
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A prized specimen in Japan and parts of South Korea, this cultivar is used to give gardens a unique look. With its brilliant white winter buds, light green spikes, and dwarf formation it is an ideal plant for a focal point. Either leaving it in its natural form or sculpting into an artistic shape, this plant will not outcompete with another specimen around it. - Tyler Lammers

Michael Pascoe, NDP., ODH., CLT., MSc. (Plant Conservation)


Tree (evergreen), Shrub (evergreen)
USDA Hardiness Zone
5a - 10b
Canadian Hardiness Zone
5a - 9b
RHS Hardiness Zone
H2 - H6
Temperature (°C)
-29 - -26
Temperature (°F)
-20 - -15
6 - 9 m
6 - 12 m
Description and Growing Information
Flowering Period
General Description
Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’ is a fast-growing conifer, with more than 30 cm of growth each year in the proper conditions. It can be pruned with great success making this specimen very easy to control. This specimen provides beautiful dark-green needles in thick rounded tufts.
Popular to use in any Japanese-Style Garden, this cultivar makes a great accent or specimen plant. It can be planted along oceanside similar to a bonsai and used for bank stabilization on a sandy hillside.
Requiring sandy soil with a 5-7 pH, this cultivar can be very drought resistant once established. While young it will require a moist soil and may need frequent watering if in extensive heat. Wind burn can be a major concern, so protecting with a proper burlap wrapping in winter is recommended.
Depending on the maintenance given to the form of the specimen, its shape can vary. If left alone the lateral branches will grow across whatever surface surrounds them. With continuous removal of lower lateral branches, it will grow upright and if pruned extensively it can be found in a dwarf form.
ID Characteristic
A compact shrub form cultivar, it has dense, thick tufts of long dark green needles that are topped with a rounded long pointy bud. The cultivar has been compared to a cloud when fully grown, that has silvery new growth in the spring.
Overall, a very pest resistant pine, problems may occur if old dead needles are not removed from the dense foliage, causing restricted airflow. There have been reports of Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’ in western regions that do not have as dense of a growing pattern, leaving some areas with big gaps between clusters of needles.
Horticultural origin.
Bark/Stem Description
Although mostly hidden by the dense foliage, the bark is very appealing and can be a great feature to this specimen. The younger branches are an orangey-yellow colour and become a dark grey almost black colour as they mature, growing up to 10 cm in diameter. A dark grey with deep grooves the trunk has a scale like appearance and at maturity can be up to 15 cm in diameter.
Flower/Leaf Bud Description
Buds are of large valvate shape appearing silvery-white in summer and white in winter. They are sticky and are the beginning of new growth, so there is not an exact size measurement, but winter buds will most likely be between 4 – 8 cm.
Leaf Description
Found in fascicles of 2 attached to the stem in tight whorls, these needles are approximately 1 cm wide and up to 13 cm long. Needles last between 3 – 5 years then turn light brown and fall in the spring. Needles are pointy and somewhat sharp to touch and are dark green in colour.
Flower Description
This cultivar does not produce flowers.
Fruit Description
Mature specimens will produce an ovoid, conical, male brownish-black cone that is 5 – 8 cm long and up to 3 cm wide sometimes in large quantities.
Colour Description
Dark green needles with silvery-white new spring growth and winter buds that are a unique beautiful white colour. As they age the needles will turn a light brown in colour.
Texture Description
A spiked appearance with smooth but sharp point needles and trunk bark that is rough to the touch with deep grooves. Branches add a smoother texture bark that is more scale-like.
Notable Specimens
Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’ can be found in the Gotelli Collection at the United States of America National Arboretum in Washington, DC.
This cultivar will need to be propagated with new growth cuttings. Dipping the cutting into a rooting hormone before planting is recommended, as it can take up to a year for the cutting to produce roots. Propagation can also be done by grafting onto a Pinus thunbergii rootstock.
Lee, J. H., Lee, S., & Yu, Y. H. (2016). Seoju Hwangkeum Sol and Hwangsim Sol Black Pine Cultivars. HortScience, 51(1), 110-111. Proctor, N., & Monroe, M. C. (2020). Common pines of Florida. EDIS, 2016(3), 11-11.