The range of plants suited to Japanese style gardens is a lot wider than many gardeners think. Commonly used Japanese plants include Flowering Cherry trees, Bamboo and Japanese Maple trees, however in Japan itself many other plants are popular, for both the rational outdoor gardens as well as for indoor use.
Of course not all plants used in Japanese gardens are originally from Japan or are naturally found only in Japan, many are imported, and many are shared with neighbouring countries including China and Korea.
For example Clivia plants are very popular in Japan, although not a native plant they are used widely both as indoor plants and as plants for shaded areas. In fact some of the major clivia hybridizers are from Japan. And of course the art of bonsai is also popular with bonsai being used both indoors and outdoors, usually on raised pedestals outdoors.
Many other plants originally from Japan are well suited to garden use, Ilex crenata is a holly, useful as an alternative to buxus, looks similar but is actually more disease resistant. The Japanese use Ilex crenata in a form of topiary and this is where we get the Japanese "Cloud tree" often grown in pots and containers, trained and pruned carefully to make fantastic specimen plants.
Mahonia japonica is a wonderful winter flowering plant, yellow flowers add a splash of colour to the garden at a time when not much else is growing. And of course we also have Japanese Temple Grass (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola') a wonderful weeping grass with yellow green variegated leaves that grows well in a shaded position.
Japanese Maples, Pieris and Pinus mugo which is a low growing species are also widely used in Japanese gardens.
The bamboo used in Japan include Phyllostachys aurea or 'Golden Bamboo'. Japanese sacred bamboo is Nandina domestica not really a bamboo at all, but it does look similar. Saraccoca humilis or 'Sweet Box' is another widely used plant.
Hostas are another plant widely used as under plantings as well as in pots or containers, in fact over 60% of hosta species come from Japan. And of course we have Pieris japonica, yes it does grow in Taiwan and Korea as well, however it is widely used in Japanese gardens. And what about the Japanese Snowball Bush or Viburnum plicatum a simply wonderful garden plant.
Cycas revoluta the sago palm is native to Southern Japan, a truly wonderful garden plant. And of course we have edible plants including Wasabia japonica.
If you are looking for 'dramatic' looking plants then the Japanese 'Jack in the Pulpit', Arisaema sikokianum is pro bably it. Although Arisaema iyoanum subsp. nakaianum might run a close second. And we also have Lilium longiflorum, the November or Easter lily, Lycoris radiata or red spider lily and Lycoris squamigera.
Cymbidium goeringii, Cymbidium dayanum, Cymbidium lancifolium, Calanthe discolor, Calanthe masuca, Bletilla striata, Dactylorhiza aristata and Dendrobium moniliforme are just a few of the orchids, native to Japan.
The wonderful woodland plants such as Paris japonica, Anemonopsis macrophylla, Glaucidium Palmatum, Primula sieboldii and Anemone flaccida all wonderful Japanese plants.
Used in landscaping around the world Japanes estyle Plants are an interesting and varied group, and they are not always originally from Japan
And some more well known species and cultivars include, Aucuba japonica, spotted laurel,Japanese laurel, or gold dust plant. Japanese azaleas which have been grown for many years, with he well known Satsuki evergreen azaleas being hybridized in Japan for over 500 years. And of course the Rhododendrons, and although many of these originally came from China it was in Japan that they were first grown and cultivated as garden plants