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Cryptomeria, Contemporary of the Dinosaurs

Cryptomeria japonica is a magnificent evergreen that can live for centuries and grow two hundred feet tall. It is an ancient species, and dinosaurs once wandered beneath these trees. It is found only in Asia, North America, and, of all places, Tasmania!This venerable cryptomeria is the oldest, largest specimen in Japan, located on Yaku Island. Tree rings indicate it is at least two thousand years old, and it may be much older.

It is the national tree of Japan, and in North America it is commonly called Japanese cedar, though it is not a cedar at all. It is actually a cypress and is in the Taxodiacceae family, which also includes the dawn redwood, California redwood, and bald cypress. Its needle like leaves are arranged in spirals, and it has reddish bark that peels off in long vertical strips. It produces one to two inch cones, and its pollen is famous for causing hay fever in its native Japan.

There are actually two varieties. Japonica has a dense habit and thick spreading branches. Sinensis has slender, drooping branches and a looser habit. Many of the ornamental cultivars are grown from sinensis. Cultivars of the tree are commonly much smaller than the species, usually growing less than sixty feet tall, with some being suitable for bonsai.  

Cryptomeria japonica var. sinensis 'Radicans' grows in my garden. Three years ago I purchased it as a six foot specimen and used it indoors as a living Christmas tree for a few weeks before planting it out in my yard. Now it's at least twice that tall. Eventually it should grow to about forty feet tall by twelve to twenty feet wide.My tree, while not as magnificent as the one pictured in the first photo, nevertheless should eventually make a nice statement in my garden.

Cryptomeria has soft blue green foliage that will turn bronze to purplish in cold winters. It will grow in zones 6-9 in full sun to partial shade and likes plenty of water, though it will do best in well drained soil. It will grow in sandy to clay soils with a ph of 5.5 to 7.5.

In Japan the species is commonly used in construction. The pinkish-red wood is waterproof and resistant to decay. Here in the United States, cultivars are usually grown as ornamentals. When I bought my tree, I was concentrating on how it would look with ornaments hanging all over it (beautiful), rather than its impact on the landscape. This time I was looking for something different, and I liked the look of Crytomeria's branches.

Now that it is growing in the garden, I am even more pleased with my choice. It is well suited to my zone 7b climate, and I think it will do well as it matures. Dinosaurs will never brush against its branches, but I have seen a few lizards!


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Reader Comments (16)

What a lovely, lush-looking tree. Wouldn't it be something if the tree you planted was still there in a thousand years, or two...

Beautiful tree, Deb! Cryptomeria's branches do look very Christmas-y. Love that old, gnarled trunk on the Japanese specimen! There is something so amazing, almost unearthly, about ancient trees like that.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFloridagirl

I think you and I are on the same wavelength. I LOVE cryptomeria! I wish I had an ancient dinosaur tree, or failing that, your 12-foot one. Once while moving a potted cryptomeria (about a 15-gallon one), I leaned into the plant to grab it and came eye to eye with a small copperhead. He was curled up in the thick branches, staying warm for the winter. I've been more careful about reaching into them since then!
Take care -- great post!

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Barrow

Very interesting post - I added 2 small cryptomeria yoshino last fall to replace large trees that had to go, and they made it through a zone 5a winter just fine! Hoping they grow quickly, but even now the soft lustrous foliage is very nice...

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCyndy

This is one of the most beautiful evergreens around. I so wish I could grow it here (not enough sun or room) but do enjoy the pictures.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertina

I am becoming more interested in trees. I'm curious where you bought this or what are good sources for nice trees in Central Alabama.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

Hi, thank you all for commenting on my cryptomeria! Jeff, I bought my cryptomeria from Myer's Plants and Pottery in Pelham. I have purchased many trees from this nursery over the years. It's one of my favorite places to plant shop!

July 1, 2010 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

It is interesting that your tree grew twice the size in only 3 years. It must be a very good location where you planted it. Do they grow usually that fast? The tree is beautiful.
I love the first picture!

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commentervrtlaricaana

This tree gets more comments from visitors to our garden than any other. It is just spectacular and has grown quite fast. In fact, it got bigger than I thought it would. Now, as for the first photo - they don't all get this size, do they? I have the "Yoshino" variety.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPhillip

Cryptomeria is just a perfect tree for your location Deborah. Its a tree I admire in aboretums especially in late autumn early winter when its foliage turns that lovely orangey burgundy colour. If I had a big garden it would be one of my first choices of conifer.

Have a lovely 4th of July Weekend

:) Rosie

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRosie

That is a stunning tree... soft but architectural looking. I wish you had a photo of it with Christmas ornaments on it! I am going to have to research whether it would do well in my zone 5. I have no room for a tree that big, but absolutely would love to have it.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

Deb - I'll stop by Meyers today and look around. I need some Roundup and maybe pick up a plant while I'm there.

July 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

What a beautiful tree!

July 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJean

What a beautiful tree. The tree in the first pictures almost looks like it has a face on it's trunk. I've seen a similar tree here in the Botanical gardens and then growing at a large nursery near us. I think it might be the same type. I remember feeling the urge to touch the needles and that they felt soft. How lucky to have one growing in your yard!

July 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

I think your tree is magnificent! The structure is exotic - thanks for sharing, both the info and the lovely specimen! --Shyrlene

July 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShyrlene

It was a pleasure to look at your postings of your garden. I enjoyed looking at your photos as it reminds me of my walks through my garden, which I find funny that I too have named it "The Woodland Garden Project". You and I share quite a few of the same trees. My wife and I are in the early stages of taking over 10 acres in the Pacific Northwest. It is tremendous work and always fun. Thank you. Bernie

April 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBernie

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