Cryptomeria, or Japanese cedar, is a splendid evergreen native to Japan and well-suited to most of the temperate world. It is a genus of conifer in the cypress family, Cupressaceae, and includes only the one species: Cryptomeria japonica. It is endemic to Japan, where it is known as Sugi, and is that country’s national tree and is commonly planted around temples and shrines. Although often called Japanese cedar in English, the tree is not related to true cedars (Cedrus) but rather to the Bald cypress (Taxodium) and Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum).

It is a very large evergreen tree, reaching up to 230 feet tall with a 12 ft trunk diameter, with red-brown bark which peels in vertical strips. The leaves are arranged spirally, and needle-like. The growth rate is slow to medium (20 feet in 20 years) and the tree is long-lived, with Japanese specimens as old as 650 years though some are claimed to be as mush as 3000 years old. Although capable of imposing heights, in cultivation it typically will grow 50 to 80 feet tall and 20 to 30 feet wide. Like most conifers, it is pyramidal when young, but at maturity the crown opens to an irregular, narrow oval form. The straight, tapered trunk supports wide-spreading branches with drooping branchlets which, in time, will touch the ground, similar to an Atlas cedar. The reddish-brown bark peels off in long strips, and is attractive in all seasons. The short, glossy green needles are spirally arranged, clasping the shoots and pointing towards the end of the stems, creating a “foxtail” effect that inevitably invites a touch. This appealing foliage turns a rich and handsome plum color in winter.

Being more refined and appealing than the ubiquitous Leyland cypress (though not as fast growing) the Japanese cedar is a superior choice for windscreens, borders and groupings on large properties. But on smaller properties it works well as a dramatic lawn specimen giving permanence and a Japanese solemnity to any location.

The ideal planting site is in moist, acidic, well-drained soil, and although it is reasonably adaptable to dry sites, it needs irrigation during drought. While it prefers full sun, it tolerates partial shade. The site should have good air circulation to help prevent disease but should not be exposed to high winds. The colder the site, the more attractively colored the foliage.

In North America it grows from the warmer parts of Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico. It is fully hardy in the UK and quite at home in Australia and New Zealand.

Some of the many cultivars are:

Yoshino - This handsome tree holds green foliage in winter. And it is the fastest growing variety, 2 to 3 feet per year, and will reach 30 to 40 feet tall.

Elegans - This dense, bushy cultivar grows 15 to 25 feet tall. It is less hardy than the species.

Globosa Nana - This mounded and compact selection grows 3 to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It has dark green needles.

Lobbii - This tree is hardier and slightly smaller than the species, denser and more compact. It will grow 20 to 40 feet tall. The foliage bronzes in winter.

As always, trees this rare are not likely to be found in the large discount nurseries, but more likely found in the select plant nurseries or from mail-order tree nurseries.



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