The wild form of Sawara false cypress is a huge evergreen conifer, to 150 ft (46 m) tall with a trunk up to 7 ft (2 m) in diameter, but in cultivation the typical species usually stays under 60 ft (18.3 m) in height, and many of the cultivars are very much smaller. The reddish brown bark is smooth and peels in thin strips. The foliage is held in 2-ranked flat, horizontal sprays which often nod at the tips. Leaves of juvenile plants are needlelike and spreading; those of older plants are scalelike and overlapping on the twigs. The cones of Sawara false cypress are small, about 1/4 in (0.6 cm) across, and horticulturally insignificant. Sawara false cypress is similar to Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa), but that species has two different shapes and sizes of scalelike leaves on its twigs, and larger cones.
'Sungold' is a Sawara false cypress cultivar in the Filifera group and is a perfect pick for year around color.
There are many cultivars of Sawara false cypress, and these can be grouped into three foliage categories: The Filifera group (threadleaf false cypresses) includes cultivars with hanging, ropelike branches, and leaves that are closely pressed to the twigs; these plants have a weird, stringy appearance. The Plumosa group (plume false cypresses) of cultivars are characterized by foliage that is soft and airy and more like feathery plumes rather than flat sprays; the scalelike leaves stand out at 45 degree angles from the twigs. The Squarosa group (moss false cypresses) of cultivars have soft needlelike leaves that stand way out from the twigs and create a mossy appearance; they never develop the adult scalelike leaves and the foliage is soft and fluffy to the touch. Within each foliage group there are full size, medium size, and dwarf selections as well as cultivars with yellow, silver, bluish and variegated foliage, and cultivars with various growth forms.
Sawara false cypress is native to southern Japan.
Culture Light: Full sun. Moisture: Sawara false cypress likes a humid environment and a relatively moist soil. It is well suited to gardens in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 8. Protect from drying winter winds in zones 4 and 5. Propagation: Start false cypresses from heeled cuttings in summer. Some of the cultivars are propagated by grafting onto seedling root stock.
A trio of false cypresses of the Squarosa group braves a cold Ohio winter - this is the cultivar 'Cyano-viridis'
The smaller cultivars of Sawara false cypress are used for specimens, foundation plantings and in hedges. The miniatures are used in bonsai, rock gardens, and Alpine gardens. Full-size cultivars and the typical species are used for screens, windbreaks and as specimen trees. The shredding reddish brown bark of larger specimens is attractive in all seasons. Cultivars of the Filifera Group, especially those with yellow foliage, are very conspicuous specimens in the landscape.
There are eight species of false cypresses (genus Chamaecyparis), 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.
Juvenile forms (with needlelike leaves) of some of the false cypress species were once thought to be different species altogether and were placed in a genus of their own, Retinispora. To this day some gardeners refer to those plants with juvenile foliage as "retinisporas."