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A Floridata Plant Profile #279 Chamaecyparis obtusa
Common Names: Hinoki cypress, Hinoki false cypress
Family: Cupressaceae (cypress Family)
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tree  Shrub  Can be Grown in Containers Has evergreen foliage Has Unusual or Interesting Foliage

Hinoki false cypress
'Nana Gracilis' is one of the the most popular dwarf cultivars of Chamaecyparis obtusa.
Hinoki false cypress is an evergreen conifer with attractive soft and stringy reddish brown bark, and drooping flat frondlike branchlets bearing small scalelike leaves. The main branches are dense and spreading and may droop to the ground, and the sprays of foliage are held in flat planes. In its native habitat, Hinoki false cypress can get over 120 ft (36.6 m) tall with a trunk diameter of 6 ft (1.8 m), but in cultivation the typical species is usually 50-60 ft (15.2-18.3 m) tall with a broadly conical crown that spreads about 20 ft (6.1 m) or so. Like many members of the false cypress family, this one has two kinds of leaves: adult leaves are like closely adpressed overlapping scales; leaves on juvenile branchlets and young plants don't overlap and are shaped more like tiny awls or broad needles. The scalelike leaves of Hinoki false cypress are borne in pairs of two unequal sizes and shapes, and this is one way to tell Hinoki false cypress from the otherwise similar Sawara false cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera) which has all of its adult leaves the same size and shape. The cones of Hinoki false cypress are about one-half inch in diameter and those of Sawara false cypress are only 1/4 in (0.6 cm) in diameter.

Crippsii foliage
'Crippsii' is a larger culitvar with gorgeous gold tipped foliage.
The typical form of the Hinoki false cypress is rarely cultivated, and most gardeners are more familiar with one or more of the many dwarf cultivars selected for size, form and foliage color. There are hundreds of named cultivars. 'Nana Gracilis' gets only about 10 ft (3.1 m) tall and has a dense, conical habit. 'Crippsii' gets 20-50 ft (6.1-15.2 m) tall and has beautiful golden yellow foliage. 'Filicoides' is an irregular shrub with long branches clothed with hanging sprays of fine, fernlike foliage. 'Tetragona' has bushy branches with foliage in four perpendicular planes. 'Juniperoides' (tennis ball cypress) is a miniature round shrub, to 1 ft (0.3 m) tall and wide. 'Minima' (golf ball cypress) is almost microscopic - after 20 years it can be less than 4 in (10.2 cm) tall!

Chamaecyparis obtusa, the Hinoki false cypress is native to southern Japan and the island of Taiwan.

Hinoki false cypress is very tolerant of pruning. Upright branches tend to fork, and these should be pruned to a single branch since they will likely break at the fork in high winds or under a snow load. Prune in summer, but don't cut into the older, brown-barked stems.
Light: Full sun.
Moisture: Water when dry. This tree likes a humid environment.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 8. Hinoki false cypress likes a cool, moist climate.
Propagation: The cultivars of Hinoki false cypress are relatively easy to start from cuttings. Propagate in summer using greenwood cuttings with a heel. Some of the dwarf cultivars are grafted onto seedlings.

Nana Gracilis' foliage
Here's leaf detail of 'Nana Gracilis' (top), a cultivar often used to create bonsai.
The various cultivars of Hinoki false cypress are used as specimens and for hedging, screening and windbreaks. These are slow growing evergreens, tolerant of acidic as well as alkaline soils. Hinoki false cypress is moderately tolerant of air pollution, too. The dwarf cultivars are valued in rock and Alpine gardens, as novelty specimens and for bonsai. The intermediate cultivars are used for hedges and foundation plantings, and the larger cultivars as specimen trees.

Hinoki false cypress is one of the 75 "Great Plants for American Gardens" as chosen by the American Horticultural Society. In Japan, the wild form is one of the most important timber trees and the many cultivars are valued as ornamentals in the garden and for bonsai subjects.

The false cypresses (genus Chamaecyparis) include just eight species, mostly from cool, moist northern latitudes in eastern Asia and North America; the true cypresses (Cupressus) include about 20 species, mostly from warmer regions in western China, western North and Central America, and the Mediterranean region. The baldcypresses (Taxodium) include just two or three species native to the southeastern U.S. and Mexico.

Steve Christman 11/10/00; updated 8/30/04, 7/18/05

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