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A Little more information on Urushi

Urushi (pronounced "oo-roo-shee") is one of the most durable natural lacquers known to man. Urushi lacquered ornaments including bracelets have been discovered in Japan dating from the Jomon period 9,000 years ago. In the west, these objects are also referred to as "japaned" objects. Hardened urushi is water and acid proof, and also protects the object from heat, salt, mold and mildews and all types of weathering. It has been used on wood, pottery, bone, baskets, fabric and metal. Recently it has been successfully applied to the barrels and caps of fountain pens made of ebonite (black hard rubber) .

Urushi is not only a durable varnish but is also one of the strongest adhesives while it is wet, which makes it perfect for decorating with gold powder (maki-e) gold foil (chinkin) or mother of pearl inlays (raden). It is so strong an adhesive that in the distant past urushi was used by hunters and warriors to fix arrowheads to their arrow shafts!

This strength combined with the natural beauty of urushi lacquer ware is the reason it has been so popular for thousands of years.

When we hear of urushi lacquerware, we think of shiny objects such as boxes and bowls covered with gold or colored maki-e decorations. However, the idea of decorating on top of urushi is a relatively new idea. Until the 18th century, urushi lacquer ware was quite plain with no decoration. Red or black urushi was used on a wide variety of objects from household necessities such as rice bowls, sake cups and combs to hunting tools. Swords, shields and entire body armor had coatings of urushi!

Where does urushi come from?

Urushi lacquer is made from the sap of the urushi tree (Rhus vernicifera). The urushi tree has been considered such a valuable commodity that it was planted all over Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868). However, the areas today where urushi sap is actually produced are very limited.

From June through November the urushi is tapped by slashing the bark of the tree with horizontal cuts to let the thick white sap (arami) ooze from the trunk. This sap begins to solidify as soon as it comes in contact with the air. It is then collected and filtered through absorbent cotton with a centrifugal separator to remove bark and other impurities. The result is raw urushi (nama-urushi) which can be further refined, or used as-is for the base coats in lacquerware. The amount of sap collected from each tree is only around 250 milliliters per year, which makes it a rather precious substance.

The raw urushi is heated at a low temperature and stirred to disperse its ingredients and break down its particles. It gradually turns dark brown in color, and reaches a smooth consistency. It is now ready to be used for the middle and final coats.

While most paints dry by the evaporation of some solvent, urushi dries or hardens by absorbing moisture from the air.

The urushi sap contains an oily substance called urushiol. When exposed to warmth and humidity, an enzyme is activated and extracts oxygen from the water and supplies it to the urushiol. The urushiol solidifies, forming a hard film. Even after it has hardened, the urushi retains some water content, making it look perpetually wet and shiny.

Urushiol is the exact same substance found in poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac which causes rash and itchiness, so it is not advisable to handle liquid urushi with your bare hands unless you are one of the lucky few who are immune to it. Apparently, Asians and Native Americans are less likely to be sensitive to urushiol.

Urushi lacquerware is often black or red. The black color is produced by adding iron powder, which produces a chemical reaction with the urushiol, turning the urushi to a deep black color. Other colors are produced by adding pigments. Mercuric sulfide produces vermillion, and ferric oxide is used to make red.

Applying cloth to the edges of the bowl

Raw urushi is used for base coats, and refined urushi is used for top coats and decoration. The process of producing typical wooden urushi lacquerware has over 20 steps, and more than a hundred individual processes, still done by hand. Even a small object like a bowl can take over 6 months to make.

These steps include:

  • seasoning the wood
  • carving and sanding it to form the object
  • reinforcing fragile parts with linen cloth (for Wajima nuri)
  • applying several base coats of raw lacquer

with drying and polishing between each coat

applying several coats of refeined black or red lacquer

with more drying and polishing between each coat.

Finally, decoration such as maki-e can be applied to the still-wet adhesive urushi, or it can remain in its subtly beautiful undecorated state.

Lacquerware produced in the small port city of Wajima in Ishikawa prefecture has gained worldwide recognition for its beauty and durability. Urushi lacquerware has been produced here since the 16th century, and even now over half of the population of Wajima is involved in its urushi trade. Of all the urushi producing areas in Japan, only the town of Wajima has been officially designated by the government as an "Intangible Cultural Asset" of Japan.

Wajima is famous for its own urushi technique called "Wajima nuri." Wajima nuri is different from other types of lacquerware in several ways (including the obvious fact that it is produced in Wajima). One distinction is the use of linen cloth to reinforce fragile parts such as the rim of bowls. The fabric is coated in urushi and then carefully applied to the wood, and smoothed out. After the fabric and urushi has hardened, the whole surface is sanded and coated again and again, so the fabric is no longer distinguishable from the rest of the object. Other distinctions include the type of wood (keyaki), and the application base coatings of a special laquer paste made of urushi and a type of soil called "ji no ko" (powder of the earth).

Urushi lacquered fountain pens produced in Wajima do not require the fabric reinforcement or the application of "ji no ko" so they are described as "Wajima urushi nuri" instead of the official designation of "Wajima nuri."

There is also an urushi lacquerware art museum in Wajima, Wajima Shikki-Kaikan filled with lacquer art and items related to the lacquer culture in Japan and Asia established for the promotion and development of urushi lacquer. Seven species of urushi trees can be seen in the museum garden. This is the only museum in Japan devoted to urushi lacquerwork.

Urushi is a very tough substance, but it does have a natural enemy. It does not like ultraviolet rays. Prolonged exposure to sunlight will eventually cause it to become dull and lose its durability. In Japan, the most valuable pieces of urushi lacquerware are stored in silk bags or wooden boxes when not in use. So take a little precaution, and don't leave your urushi pens lying around for long periods in direct sunlight. And pass the word onto your children and grandchildren, because with a little care, an urushi pen should outlast the original owner by many generations!

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JungleSeeds&Gardens - Specialists in Exotic Seeds & Plants


We have established specimens of most of these trees, which really need to be seen to appreciate their beauty. If you have space to grow them I would urge you to start out as soon as possible, as many take years to flower. We have again increased the range on offer for 2008.

This handsome fir likes abundant moisture, eventually growing to 50ft in a narrow pyramid. Dark green needles typical of the Abies family with 2-4 inches long dark purple fir cones. Fully hardy but slow growing in the initial seedling years. Part of our "Exotic Christmas Tree" seed range.

White Fir - Christmas Tree n Ј ]]]

White Fir is widely planted as an ornamental tree in large parks with its glaucus foliage often showing quite strong blue hues. The foliage has an attractive scent, and is used for Christmas decoration, including Christmas trees. The long needles are displayed in a curving upward fashion along the branches and a blue clone I have in our arboretum is one of my favourite firs with its light blue soft spring foliage. Part of our "Exotic Christmas Tree" seed range.

10 seeds Ј2.95 JS1213

A lovely small hardy garden conifer with deep green needles, silver-white underneath. The purple cones, which sit bolt upright on the branches, are the tree's most attractive features and give an excellent display for 9 months of the year.

Nordmann Fir - Christmas Tree n Ј ]]]

This handsome large fir is native to the mountains south and east of the Black Sea, in Turkey, Georgia, Russian Caucasus and northern parts of Armenia. It is a large evergreen coniferous tree growing to 180ft tall and with a trunk diameter of up to 6ft. Some specimens have been reported to be 250ft tall, the tallest trees in Europe. This is the "non drop needle" Christmas tree variety increasingly common for sale at Christmas but rarely pot grown. I have several of these trees now at 6ft height grown from seed and kept in pots for Christmas but they require regular feed and water if maintained as a pot-grown specimen. Part of our "Exotic Christmas Tree" seed range.

Abies Pinsapo Glauca

A majestic and beautiful conifer with stiff leaves of a lovely blue grey colour. Upright cones all summer up to 9" tall. The spring smaller male cones are a soft red colour followed by green grey soft new growth that stiffen as they age. One of my favourite conifers in our Arboretum.

Hardy Abutilon n Ј ]]

Abutilon Suntense is a hybrid of white flowered Abutilon vitifolium and the smaller mauve flowered Abutilon ochsenii from south America and the resulting cross has proved slightly hardier than Vitifolium. The large exotic white, pale mauve or deep mauve flowers with a golden centre are up to 3” across and carried in bunches all over the tree in late spring.

Abutilon suntense white

(Pr Pkt) Ј2.59 JS3033

Abutilon suntense is hardy in most parts of the country given a sheltered position. It makes a large shrub to small tree status if not lightly pruned after flowering. The large exotic white flowers with a golden centre are up to 3" across and carried in bunches all over the tree in late spring. A spectacular shrub and easy from seed.

Snakebark Maple n Ј ]]]

Acer davidii is a multi-trunked deciduous tree with green and white bark and arching branches with mid green leaves that turn orange/yellow in autumn, bearing pale yellow flowers in spring and pink to brown fruits in the autumn. Attractive striped bark that shows up well in winter.

Paperbark Maple n Ј ]]]

Acer griseum is a beautiful small Acer tree with stunning autumn colours and a rich peeling cinnamon coloured bark. It is however not easy to grow from seed and some patience is required pre stratifying the hard seeds.

Acer japonicum Aconitifolium

15 seeds Ј2.55 JS2174

Scarlet or orange-yellow autumn colour, with large deeply cleft leaves and one of the most beautiful of all Japanese maples for a spectacular autumn display.

Acer palmatum Bloodgood

15 seeds Ј2.55 JS2173

An attractive Japanese maple with burgundy-red foliage colouring turning brilliant scarlet in the autumn. Bright red seeds add to the attraction of this lovely Acer, growth well-suited for use as a small lawn tree or for patios and entryways. Eventually to 15 feet tall and wide. Good for pot work.

15 seeds Ј2.55 JS2175

A North American timber tree with spectacular autumn colours in good years. A medium height handsome tree with large lobed deep green leaves that change dramatically as the temperature drops in late autumn. The most impressive autumn colour in our arboretum when it looks simply on fire. These seeds have been selected from trees with the best autumn foliage colour.

Tree of Heaven n Ј ]]

A fast growing tree included because of its potential for pollarding in spring. This forces spectacular fast growth with large pinnate leaves for an excellent show of summer foliage. It appears to germinate readily from seed, but subsequent growth is slower than the Paulownia, included in this section for the same purpose. Beware though the plant has a strong suckering habit and is considered a problem in warmer climates.

Albizia julibrissin rosea

A marginally hardy tree outside of a microclimate, but with beautiful sprays of cloud pink flowers on soft downy foliage. Sadly not hardy enough for me but I have seen many fine specimens in greater London. A small tree with a spreading delicate habit.

Monkey Puzzle Tree nЈ ]]

A popular tree planted in many gardens early last century. The scale-like leaves are dark green, stiff, sharp-pointed and densely arranged on upwardly-sweeping branches, looking more reptilian than coniferous in character. The species is estimated to be around 60 million years old, based upon fossil records known today. Trees take 50 years to mature and produce the nuts, which are edible.

Strawberry Tree n Ј ]]

Small evergreen tree seen in Portugal and North America, with attractive peeling red brown bark which will tolerate a slightly alkaline soil. Excellent for a woodland garden with small white flowers followed by the 3 cm strawberry looking fruits. Because of the high sugar content the Portuguese make an excellent fermented liqueur called Medronho - a particular favourite of mine! The picture is one from our own tree showing both fruits and flowers at Christmas.

Hardy PawPaw n Ј ]]]

This decorative small tree with clusters of purple flowers in the spring, has large tropical looking leaves and grows to about 10' tall. It is native and well known in much of the eastern United States. It produces dark green oblong fruit 3 to 6 inches long with a pulp that tastes like vanilla custard. Harvest when fruit color turns from green to yellow. Take out your spoon and eat. It’s delicious. The pulp has big seeds that are easy to spoon out and discard or plant to grow additional trees. The tree has a tap root and grows slowly at first hardy to around -15°C They grow naturally as an understory tree but can grow in full sun. Fruit ripens in late September and October.

Bird of paradise shrub (loved by humming birds) n Ј ]]

A superb hardy tropical tree, easy from seed that prefers dry conditions. The more common Pride of Barbados is far too soft to grow in the UK under glass although the spectacular flowers make you want to keep trying. This one has flowers not so vivid in colour as pulcherrima but none the less really tropical looking and carried on attractive ferny foliage. Has to be one to try outside in a sheltered hot dry position and if the wood is ripened well enough in summer it should withstand up to -12°C.

Indian Bean Tree n Ј ]]]

A superb hardy tropical looking tree, easy from seed that produces horse chestnut like flowers in late summer, followed by long beans in warmer areas. The leaves are large, pale green and the tree can be used for coppicing to produce an even more dramatic effect. A desirable plant with its late flowering habit (Jul/Aug).

Beijing Catalpa n Ј ]]]

A slightly smaller tree than bignonioides from northern China, but just as hardy with the added attraction that the flowers are a delicate pink. Large heart shaped green leaves for tropical effect.

20 seeds Ј2.42 JS944

A small spreading tree with kidney-shaped, blue-green leaves, turning yellow in autumn. In spring the tree bears masses of small but pretty magenta pink flowers all over the stems and trunk followed by striking pea type pods in a good season.

Fringe Tree n Ј ]]]

A tall shrub to a small tree with oblong glossy leaves. Flowers are borne prolifically in many-flowered drooping panicles from the axils of the previous year's growth. A lovely shrub or small tree which I owned for several years until I misjudged cutting the grass next to it with a large sit on lawn mower! I did make a few comments out loud like “bother” at the time!!

Christmas Tree Seed Exotic Collection

10 seeds each of 6 varieties Ј4.99 JS1612

JungleSeeds exotic mixed packet of 6 hardy fir tree seeds all of which will make a handsome small tree in a pot or field grown for later harvesting and easy from seed. Balsam fir, White fir, Nordmann fir, Douglas fir, Californian Redwood and Giant Sequoia.

Kentucky Yellow Wood n Ј ]]]

A handsome but rare medium sized tree (10m) from southern USA producing panicles of fragrant white wisteria-like flowers in June. Leaves turn clear yellow in autumn. Hardy in the UK down to -20C

Chilean Fire Bush n Ј ]

A small tree only hardy in the milder parts of the country but the colour of its flowers, borne in glorious profusion in early summer, are a bright crimson-scarlet. It is possible however to flower a small plant in a pot and ideal for a cool greenhouse or conservatory. Needs a soil on the acid side and prefers shady woodland conditions.

Maidenhair Tree n Ј ]]]

Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest living tree species, dating back over 300 million years. Individual trees can live for over 1,000 years. Ginkgo biloba also produces the best selling herbal product in the world. Called the Maidenhair Tree because its leaves closely resemble those of the Maidenhair Fern, the tree was discovered in China and has unusual shaped lime green leaves. For nearly 2800 years the Chinese have used extracts from the Ginkgo tree to treat a variety of conditions; can they be that wrong? Not easy to grow though (or perhaps it’s just me!), as I have found out over the years. A challenge for the enthusiasts among you?

Japanese Raisin Tree n Ј ]]

An unusual fast growing tree that produces small raisin like fruit from the trunk. The Raisin Tree native to China is deciduous growing to around 30ft with a single trunk and a rounded head. They have large somewhat limp glossy green, 7" leaves . The flowers are small but are clustered together in great masses and are cream in colour.

Golden Rain Tree nЈ ]]]

A lovely tree with its beautiful dark green fine foliage and foot-long, golden cascades of flowers in July. The seeds dry into interestingly shaped “pods” that resemble Japanese lanterns. This hardy tree grows 30-40 feet tall and makes an excellent small shade tree. Prefers full to partial sun, drought tolerant and grows well in most soil conditions. The Golden Raintree also has orange-yellow colour in the autumn.

(Pr Pkt) Ј2.10 JS955

A tall tree with unusual tulip like flowers with greenish-yellow petals blushed with orange on the inside. Because they generally are found high in the leaf canopy, the flowers often go unnoticed until they drop off after pollination. The large leaves of this tree are also quite distinct, with a large, v-shaped notch at the tip. I have a beautiful variegated leaf specimen of this tree always admired by visitors. Poor % seed germination rate but worth a try

Amur maackia n Ј ]]]

Maackia amurensis is a rare and handsome plant native to Northern China and Korea with new leaves in spring a beautiful ghostly, silver-blue in colour aging to green. It also has delightful upright panicles of creamy-white, slightly fragrant flowers in midsummer. An unusual and lovely garden tree.

Southern Magnolia n Ј ]]

A beautiful tree with large dark green glossy leaves, best planted in a warm sheltered position against a wall in neutral to acid soil. The tree is used as an ornamental because of its huge creamy white showy flowers that contrast so well with the glossy foliage. This will take a few years to flower from seed but well worth the wait.

Princess Tree n Ј ]]

One of my favourites that I have been growing for many years. Unfortunately in Oxfordshire, without a micro climate protection, late spring frosts prevent it from flowering. The flower buds are formed in the autumn and stay dormant on the plant until early spring, but easily destroyed by heavy frosts. If you can provide a position for it to flower, for example most areas in London would be suitable, it would then produce lovely large purple, upright, wisteria/lilac type flowers with a delicate fragrance. The alternative use as shown in my photograph is to pollard the main trunk down to 12" every year, allowing it to subsequently throw one or two strong shoots. On an established 3 to 4 year or older tree, these can reach 14' in a single summer from a spring pruning with huge 2' to 3' leaves - a stunning display! Easily grown from seed but the young plants will not take beyond -10°C, so provide some care and protection in the first few years.

Douglas Fir - Christmas Tree n Ј ]]]

Douglas-fir, also called Red-fir, Oregon-pine or Douglas-spruce, is one of the world's most important and valuable timber trees. Not a true fir but it looks very similar and is extremely fast growing. Seedlings will attain 12" to 18" from an early sowing in the first year and once the tree matures after 8 to 10 years, they put on top growth of anything up to 6ft a year. My own trees are growing at a terrific rate after 10 years from seed and now reach 20 to 30ft tall and quite wide. A good choice for a fast growing fir tree but please plant it where it will have space to flourish, without being a menace, or keep it pot grown. Part of our "Exotic Christmas Tree" seed range.

10 seeds Ј2.13 JS372

Deciduous spreading and suckering open shrub fully hardy with velvety shoots and large ash like foliage that turns brilliant red in the autumn. Exotic looking leaves and unusual clusters of red fruit clusters makes an exotic looking shrub.

20 seeds Ј1.49 JS3720

A North American deciduous tree the Robinia pseudoacacia or commonly known as black locust, grows well in our British climate and was introduced to Europe in 1601. The tree has pale green lush foliage turning a good yellow in autumn. In June it supports large pendulous bunches of pea like fragrant white flowers attractive to bees.

Californian Redwood n Ј ]]

Sequoia sempervirens is a native from just one area of our planet- a 450-mile strip along the Pacific Coast of North America. The trees prosper in this mild climate zone, where winter rains and summer fog provide an even temperature and a high level of year-round moisture. The trees inhabit sheltered, well-watered places of rich soil as far inland from the Pacific Ocean as the fog drift, seldom more than 20 miles and up the coastal mountainsides to about 2,000 feet elevation. The oldest verified redwood tree is at least 2,200 years of age, but many believe that some may be much older. The coast redwoods are the tallest living species on Earth. Often they can reach heights of 300-350 feet and diameters of 16-18 feet. More than a dozen trees exceeding 360 feet in height are now growing along the California coast. This is a fast growing tree and easy from seed. One of my own seedlings now stands at 30ft after 10 years but does like water and does not like the late spring frosts. Makes an attractive small tree in pots and is also part of our "Exotic Christmas Tree" seed range.

Giant Sequoia n Ј ]]

Sequoiadendron the only close relative to the Redwood, contains a single species from the Sierra Nevada Mountains of eastern California. This single species is a giant among trees and is considered by many the most massive living organism. Although not the tallest tree in North America, it comes very close. The largest individual Giant Sequoia is the General Sherman tree. The General Sherman tree has a height of 250 feet and a diameter near the base of 24.75 feet. The total volume of the tree is 13,260 cubic feet. The trunk of the General Sherman tree weighs almost 1400 tons. By comparison this is equivalent to 15 adult blue whales or 10 train locomotives. A handsome hardy fir tree easy to grow from seed with red bark and even young trees gain large trunks quite quickly. My own tree from seed has a girth diameter of 3ft in 10 years at the base and stands about 25ft tall. Part of our "Exotic Christmas Tree" seed range and worth trying as a pot plant in its early years.

Chinese Mahaogany n Ј ]]]

This native of China and much of Asia is as useful as it is beautiful. The red spring leaves of the Chinese mahogany are attractive to look at and tasty to eat, while its timber is used to make high quality furniture. The young leaves are used as a vegetable in China, and taste similar to onion. The flavour of the younger, redder leaves is said to be better than those which have turned green although both are regularly used in stir fry meals and salads. Fully grown leaves are a deep green and are 30-60cm long with 10-24 leaflets arranged in pairs either side of the central stalk. In autumn, the leaves fade to gold before being shed for winter. As well as its attractive foliage Toona sinensis also produces sweetly-scented flowers in July. Cream in colour, they hang in pendulous clusters and are pollinated by insects.

Germination --- Easy n , Moderate n and Challenging n

Backlog for Fresh Seed --- u New Seeds not in Catalogue --- «

Growing Symbols --- Ј Sunny position Ј Shady position S Lots of Water

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