Japanese cedar is a monophyletic genus in the pine family, Cryptomeria, once belonging to the Cyperaceae family. It has only one recognized species, Cryptomeria japonica, from which all others are considered subspecies. It’s native to Japan and is now naturalized in other countries, notably China and North America. Some people consider it an endangered species.
The tree is famous for its foliage. In Japan, they refer to it as a Cryptomeria, which literally means “tennis ball tree.” It’s been used for many decorations because of its uniform green foliage, narrow widths and the ability to grow to a great length. It’s very straight with a moderately-to fully-grown height. Its leaves are variegated and arranged asymmetrically, forming a shape that resembles a basketball.
As a wood, Japanese cedar has distinctive reddish-brown tones with black streaks. The bark is grooved and is quite thick, with an unequal base. The trunk is straight with a broad base and tapering heartwood that’s typically clear. The leaves have a cream-colored tinge and the trunk possesses many flowers that bloom in spring.
The most common subspecies are the black and white varieties. The white form has gray-green foliage with white bands and a gray flower that bloom in April. The black form has gray-green foliage with white bands and a black flower. All three varieties grow in the same area but differ in height and habit. The cypress commonly grows in Japan but also grows in North America, in Mexico, in China and in the Philippines. The ‘Elegans’ cultivar is the one with the widest distribution.
The ‘Aqua’ cultivar is native to China and the Philippines and can be found growing in Manchuria, Taiwan and Japan. The leaves are needle-like and the leaves are covered with a creamy-white blue-green foliage that looks like pale milk. The trunk has a straight development and the flowers develop in spring. The ‘Himeno’ has gray-green leaves with red-orange flowers.
In Japan, the ‘Aqua’ cultivar is found mainly in Tokyo. It’s a deciduous wood that prefers full sun. It’s a slow-growing tree with an upright growth habit and comes with large white blooms that reach up to 6 inches. The ‘cryptomeria japonica’ is another fast-growing, often called, the ‘compact’ variety which has a gray-green, rigid branch that stands erect with gray-green leaves and pink flowers.
The Japanese cedar has a wide distribution across mainland Asia and the subcontinent of India. In India, it is known as the japonica and is famous for its durability and strength. However, this hardy tree is also used for other applications including the production of paper, ink and clothing. The Chinese conifers are considered as a premium hardwood trees due to their disease resistance and flexibility, while they are highly sought after in the lumber industry for their natural blue color that adds dimension to the product.
The most important information regarding planting cedar is that the young shoots do not come up until after the tree flowers, so all cuttings should be taken when the tree flowers. The young shoots will need a support structure or a trellis to help them reach maturity. The best time of year to plant and grow a cedar tree is during the monsoon season, from December to March, as this is the most ideal time to prune the tree. Pruning the tree stimulates new growth and encourages the wood to change color with new growth.
Cedar trees usually grow to three to five feet in height with the distinctive straight spines. The limbs of the cedar tree are straight, so if you want your garden design to have a natural look, you should plant the trees in groups of four to six. The best time to prune these trees is right after the tree blooms. If you do not want to change the direction of the tree, you can leave some of the branches intact and wait for the rest to grow naturally. The trees of Japan are known to be highly prolific cutters, producing up to 80% of the wood they harvest annually.
There are several different cultivars of Japanese cedar tree available in the market today. Some are oil-based, while others are insect resistant. A few decades back, there were only a few cultivars available but they were not very popular due to the fact that they didn’t last long. The third cultivar, which is the non-oil cultivar, is the most popular today. It is known for its resistance to insects, diseases, and changing weather conditions as well as being very resistant to pruning. The wood of the Japanese cedar tree is very durable and strong.
When it comes to maintenance, these two different cultivars require nothing more than regular watering and pruning to keep them healthy and to make sure they last for many years. Some of the more popular cultivars, however, may require that you take some precautions to protect them from harsh weather conditions. They may need to spend a little more time outdoors each day, for example. Partial shade is one way that Japanese cedar can remain attractive year after year, even in harsher climates. You just need to learn how to care for them properly.