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Herb Gallery

Song Jie (Pinus tabulaeformis)

  • Botanical name: Pinus tabulaeformis
  • Common name: Chinese red pine
  • Literal name translation: pine knots
  • Family: Pinaceae, pine family
  • Part used in Chinese medicine: branch nodes
  • Major Chinese medicine actions:
  • Disperses wind damp obstruction, alleviates pain
Pinus tabulaeformis
Pinus tabulaeformis
Pinus tabulaeformis

Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Pinus tabulaeformis; famous old pine in Beihai park, Beijing; 10/2006;
author Yongxinge; permission under GFDL
Photo 2: Pinus tabulaeformis; 07/2005; author Fanghong; permission under GFDL
Photo 3: Image source unavailable

Growing and Propagation

Pines generally grow in any well-drained soil and prefer full sun. They can be propagated by seed in containers in a cold frame through the winter, then planted in the ground in spring. The Chinese red pine is fast growing and conical-shaped when young, then slow growing and flat-topped as it gets older. Needles are gray-green and the bark is scaly, red-brown and fissured. It is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 7.

Harvesting and Preparation

The branch nodes can be collected at any time of the year, usually taken from trees that have been cut or fallen, but also from knotty pine wood at lumber yards. They are generally used without any special preparation, but may be soaked or steamed, then cut and dried in the sun. For medicinal use, the best quality Song Jie are large knots, reddish brown in color, having high oil content.


The pine tree is a favorite subject in both Chinese literature and art, and together with bamboo and the plum tree, is considered one of the “Three Friends of Winter”. It is regarded as a symbol of longevity, endurance, and dignified old age, and is therefore planted in many gardens and on temple grounds. Because the tree survives for many centuries, it is likened to a “dragon amongst lesser creatures” (Barnhart, 1972) with bark that is compared to dragon scales and roots that are like claws enabling it to grow and cling to mountain precipices.

Song Jie, translated as “pine knots”, is the wood knots or nodes of the Chinese red pine that is native to northern China, Inner Mongolia and northern Korea. In modern times it is uncommon find the tree in cultivation outside of China, and it is grown primarily in botanical gardens. It reaches 50-70 feet tall and has a very broad spreading shape, hence the scientific name tabuliformis, meaning “table-shaped”. The long horizontal limbs of these old pines can reach 30 feel long and often require support as in the first photo above.