Story behind the art of Akiko Enokido 

Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens
The Third New York Botanical Garden Triennial


Taxodium distichum
Kobe Municipal Arboretum, Kobe, Japan

I first saw Taxodium distichum at Shinjyuku-Gyoen National Park in Tokyo. I was amused at the strange shape of its roots called cypress knees, which soared like a man-made object from a white flower carpet. Later on, I learned that the tree is called "Raku-usho" in Japanese, which translates as “falling feather pine” because the foliage looks like feathers when they start to drop in the late fall.  It is a deciduous conifer in the family Cupressaceae; that explains one of its common names, “Bald cypress”. It is also known as “Swamp cypress”.

When I came home from Tokyo, I went to the Kobe Municipal Arboretum, which is close to my home, to observe T. distichum once again. At Shinjuku-Gyoen, the tree grew in a swamp, but here they grew in a pond. There were many cypress knees everywhere, covered with feather-like leaves. This tree often grows in wetlands, and raises its roots, known as knees, out of the water to take in oxygen. The strange roots and the large tree growing out of the water and reflected in it leaves the viewer with a strong, beautiful image.

I initially struggled with the layout of my painting because I wanted to include the cypress knees and also the reflection of the huge tree and it was difficult to show all this in a limited amount of space, but I think I succeeded.  I included the feather-like leaves, waiting for the autumn season to show them turning an orange color, and the cones that grow at the tip of the branches. I painted the leaves and the cones with watercolor, and the tree and roots with graphite, to show contrast.  This was my first time painting cypress leaves, which was challenging, but it opened my mind to observe other various type of leaves.


I visit the Kobe Municipal Arboretum often and I know the people who work there. They are really cooperative with botanical artists. Because I wanted to illustrate the tree in autumn, I asked them about the timing of the leaf color change and then made an appointment with them. One of the workers cut the nice branch for me that has beautiful cones on it.


The leaves of T. distichum look very similar to those of Metasequoia glyptostroboides. but if we look carefully, the individual leaves of T. distichum grow alternately, which is different from the other (please see picture below). I hope people notice my attention to details to express this characteristic of the leaves.  Below:Taxodium distichum alternate; Metasequoia glyptostroboides opposite.


 Metasequoia glyptostroboides, Sequoia, and T. distichum are called “living fossils”. Sequoia and T. distichum grew in a wide area of the Northern Hemisphere during the Mesozoic era. In East Asia, T. distichum became extinct, and no fossil has been found after the Neogene Period(from 23.03 to 2.58 million years ago).

In modern times, the first T. distichum tree was brought from the United States to the Shinjuku-Gyoen National Park in 1872, and these trees can now be seen in many parts of Japan.


Read more about this artist’s work: 19th Annual International
  • © 2017 Akiko Enokido
    Taxodium distichum
    Watercolor and graphite on paper
    22-3/4" x 16'