Peter Lik’s Tree? No, it’s not.

This is the tree.

In the city of Portland, Oregon there is a world-famous Japanese Maple tree, located just inside the gates of the Portland Japanese Garden just waiting to capture your spirit and imagination. When you visit the garden and see this tree in person, or view beautiful photographs like the ones I share with you below, you may fantasize about the magic of this tree and the story of where it came from. It is difficult not to envision a small world of fairies or other mythical creatures creating homes here, built from the small ferns that surround it, scavenging the “forest” for mushrooms and other edibles. In reality, this glorious Japanese Maple that helps draw over a quarter million visitors each year to the garden, may have much more humble beginnings than you may think.

History of the Garden

In 1958, Portland became a sister city to Sapporo, Japan, helping to create a broad interest in Japanese culture. Soon after, several business leaders and the Mayor of Portland decided it would be wonderful for Portland to have a traditional Japanese Garden. On June 4th, 1962, the City Council created a commission to establish the garden on the site of the former Washington Park Zoo. The Japanese Garden Society of Oregon was formed in 1963 by Portland citizens interested in promoting a more intimate relationship between the Peoples of Japan and our city and state. Takuma Tono, a Tokyo Agricultural University professor and internationally recognized authority on Japanese landscape design, was commissioned to design and supervise the development of the garden and he began landscaping the garden that year. In the summer of 1967, the Portland Japanese Garden formally opened to the public. The 5.5-acre Japanese garden is composed of five separate gardens: Strolling Pond Garden, Tea Garden, Natural Garden, Flat Garden, and Sand and Stone Garden.

This beautiful Japanese Maple tree that so many have grown to love, was not an original planting in the garden. No one is 100% sure of exactly when it was planted, or where it came from. Speaking to Adam Hart, Senior Gardener of the garden, after looking through historical photographs, I was told that this lace-leaf maple was most likely planted sometime around 1971 and is between 65-70 years old. According to Mr. Hart, the tree was not very impressive when it was first planted, so there aren’t many photographs of it from those early days and the photographs he could find showed a fairly small and unspectacular specimen. The origin of the tree is also a mystery, but many of the lace-leaf maples were donated from people in the community and while we are not sure that this was the case, you can see other spectacular lace-leaf maples in the yards of beautiful homes along the road leading to the garden.

A Tree for all Seasons

Each and every season brings about change and rebirth inside the garden and the tree is no exception. It is spectacular all year round and an incredible photographic subject any time of the year.

The Peter Lik Effect

World renowned, Australian born photographer Peter Lik has captured numerous images of this tree throughout the years including pieces titled “Tree of Life” “Tree of Zen” and “Inner Peace”. With galleries around the world combined with the natural beauty of the tree itself, it is no wonder that almost every time I share a photograph of the tree someone says “It’s the Peter Lik Tree” or, “I have loved this tree ever since I saw Peter Lik’s version of it…and yours is as good or better!” I guess it just goes to show how the success of an image can follow you and in some ways become a part of who you are as a photographer.

I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and spent the majority of my life there. In 2008, when I picked up my first camera, I began looking for places inside the city that I could photograph and stumbled across an out of focus, dreamy interpretation of this tree by a fellow photographer named Zeb Andrews. Those of us who lived in Portland at the time were photographing this tree long before Peter Lik ever did. I have returned every year since then, capturing the tree in all four seasons.

In early 2013 I began offering a portion of my work as limited edition pieces, including the majority of my photographs of this beautiful tree. Since then I have sold over 1000 pieces from this collection, with the majority of them being large format prints on high gloss ChromaLuxe aluminum sheeting and Acrylic Face Mounted prints. Living Lightning, released in February 2013, has sold over 190 of the 200 pieces in the limited edition as of January 2016. Less than 10 total pieces remain available of this piece before it will be closed and never printed as a fine art piece again. Dragon’s Breath, also a limited edition of 200 was released in November 2013 and sold the first 40 pieces in the first 6 months and is now over 60% sold out as well. The success of these images has even caused some to start calling this tree the Aaron Reed tree which I think it equally humorous to calling it Peter Lik’s.

Despite what others may think or how they choose to reference it, this majestic tree is not Peter Lik’s, nor is it mine, nor anyone else. The greatest value of this tree lies in the fact that it is there for everyone to see, to wonder, to experience and to share in a weird little city called Portland. For those who may have never been and would like to see the garden during the peak of fall color, the 3rd week in October is a pretty good bet for a time to choose to visit. Don’t hesitate, because this tree can change from green to orange to red and finally drop its leaves all in the course of a week. If you do visit, I hope you enjoy the tree and the rest of the garden as much as I have and will continue to, year after year.

If you are interested in purchasing pieces from my Limited Edition collection, including all of my captures of this tree including “Dragon’s Breath”, “Living Lightning”, “The Green Dragon”, “White Lightning”, “Believe In Magic” and my newest addition “Firebird”, please visit my website at or simply send me a message below:

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