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Cryptomeria japonica (L. f.) D. Don

Modern name

Cryptomeria japonica (Thunb. ex L.f.) D.Don


Cupressus japonica L. f.

An evergreen shrub up to 3 ft high (usually from 9 to 24 in.), of staggling habit, much branched; branches densely leafy, and either downy or glabrous. Leaves opposite, arranged in four rows, giving a quadrangular shape to the twig, 120 to 110 in. long, closely packed and scale-like. Flowers in slender, one-sided racemes, 1 to 6, or as much as 12 in. long, purplish pink, varying in depth of shade in different plants. The calyx is the chief ornamental part of the flower, and consists of four nearly separate, narrowly oval sepals 316 in. long; the corolla is about half as long. Stamens eight.

This is the shrub which covers so many thousands of acres of the moors and mountains of the north of England and Scotland, and makes them so beautiful in late summer and autumn. Among native woody plants it is the most abundant and covers the greatest area. In good soil it is apt to grow too quickly and become gaunt and bare, and short-lived; this can be remedied to some extent by cutting over the plants in early spring before growth recommences and removing all the old flower-stems. A poor soil, with peat mixed, keeps the plants dwarf and in better habit. The named varieties, of which there are many, are increased by cuttings or by division. They are useful for planting in masses on dry banks, which, with a little attention at first to weeding and perhaps watering, they will soon take complete possession of, giving beautiful patches of colour from July onwards for many years.

Bees are particularly fond of the flowers, and the honey they give is regarded as of special quality. In my native village in Yorkshire it used to be, and probably still is, the practice for the beehives of the cottagers to be laden on vans and taken every summer to the moors, ten or more miles away, for the bees to collect honey there from the heather. They were brought back in autumn. Branches of heather are much used in the north also for making besoms – in the same way that birch twigs are used in the south.

f. alba (West.) Braun-Blanquet var. alba (West.) G. Don; E. vulgaris var. alba West. – Flowers white. A fairly common variant.

var. hirsuta (Waitz) S. F. Gray Erica vulgaris var. hirsuta Waitz; C. vulgaris var. tomentosa G. Don; C. vulgaris var. incana Reichb.; C. vulgaris var. hirsuta f. typica Beijerinck – Stems and leaves clad with a greyish indumentum. Occasionally found wild with the type. The forma typica of Beijerinck was intended to distinguish the wild forms of var. hirsuta from the various cultivars which he classified under this variety.

Many clones have been named, some of them descending from wild plants and others of nursery origin. For a full account of these and for guidance on cultivation and arrangement the following works are recommended: F. J. Chapple, The Heather Garden, 1964; A. T. Johnson, Hardy Heaths, 1956; J. F. Letts, Hardy Heaths and the Heather Garden, 1966; D. Fyfe Maxwell and P. S. Patrick, The English Heather Garden, 1966. The Heather Society, founded in 1963, publishes a Year Book. For the following short selection from the cultivars we are indebted to The Royal Horticultural Society.

‘Alba Jae’. – White, very compact and erect, foliage bright medium green. 9 in. Aug.

‘Alba Plena’. – Double white. Large flowers. Very free flowering. Compact, 8 in. Aug.

‘Alportii’. – Bright crimson, in long erect spikes. 2 ft. Aug.

‘August Beauty’. – White. Fairly compact, slightly spreading, vigorous. Foliage medium dark green. 11 in. July-Aug.

‘Aurea’. – Soft mauve. Foliage gold in spring, green in summer, red in winter. Slender stems. 7 in. Late July-Aug.

‘Barnett Anley’. – Petunia Purple. Compact and erect, vigorous. Foliage fairly dark green. 1 ft. Aug.

‘County Wicklow’. – Clear pink, double in spikes. 3-6 in. long, of dense prostrate habit. Foliage dark green. 9 in. July-Sept.

‘C. W. Nix’. – Dark crimson. Tall and graceful with feathery stems. 2 ft. Aug.-Sept.

‘Drum-ra’. – White. Compact and erect, vigorous. Foliage medium green. 11 in. Aug.

‘Elsie Purnell’. – Amaranth Rose, double, on spikes 612 in. long. Very vigorous and compact. 21 in. Aug.-Sept.

‘Foxii Nana’. – Light purple, shy flowering. A good foliage plant forming dwarf, dense, compact cushions of deep green. 3-6 in. July-Oct.

‘Fred J. Chapple’. – Mallow Purple in spikes 4 in. long. Foliage medium green, but varying from gold, cream, and pink to copper; tips coral-pink. 10 in. Aug.-Sept.

‘Gold Haze’. – Plentiful white flowers. A fine bright golden-yellow foliage plant, the colour persisting throughout the year. 7 in. Aug.-Sept.

‘H. E. Beale’ – Silvery pink, double, large, in long spikes of strong branching open habit. 18 in. One of the best heathers, succeeding even on clay soil. Aug.-Oct.

‘J. H. Hamilton’. – Fuchsia Pink, fully double, on slender 6 to 10 in. high stems of semi-prostrate habit, making a dwarf mat of interlacing growth. 9-12 in. Aug.-Sept.

‘Joan Sparkes’. – Double pale pink, of trailing habit. 9 in. Aug.-Oct.

‘Mair’s Variety’. – Pure white in long spikes. Of upright branching growth. Foliage medium green. 212 ft. Aug.-Sept.

‘Mullion’. – Orchid Purple. Low and close-growing. Foliage medium green. 5 in. Aug.-Sept.

‘Multicolor’. – Phlox Purple. Of vigorous and spreading habit. Foliage medium green tipped golden and coral. 8-10 in. Late July-Aug.

‘Peter Sparkes’. – Late flowering but similar in growth to ‘H. E. Beale’, of which it is stated to be a sport, but with flowers of a deeper pink. Aug.-Oct.

‘Robert Chapman’. – Rose Purple. Compact and fairly erect. Foliage green tinged yellow. Winter foliage medium green overlaid orange-red to scarlet. 8-10 in. Aug.-Sept.

‘Rosalind’. – Mallow Purple. Vigorous and erect. Foliage yellowish green. 10 in. Aug.-Sept.

‘Serlei’. – Pure white, freely produced on feathery branches, of rather tall and pyramidal habit, reaching a height of 2-3 ft. An excellent white heather of vigorous habit. Sept.-Nov.

‘Serlei Aurea’. – Similar to the above, with attractive golden foliage.

‘Tib’. – Cyclamen Purple. Compact and erect, vigorous. Foliage dark green. 10 in. One of the first callunas to flower. July-Aug.

C. japonica (L. f.) D. Don

Cupressus japonica L. f.

An evergreen, pyramidal tree 100 to 180 ft high in Japan, with a trunk 3 to 7 ft in diameter, clothed with a thin reddish-brown bark which peels off in long, narrow strips. Leaves dagger-shaped, curved inwards towards the point, four-angled, 14 to 34 in. long, attached by their thickened bases to the branchlet on which they are closely and spirally set, all pointing forwards. Cones brown, globular, about 58 in. in diameter, composed of from twenty to thirty scales, each bearing three to five seeds.

Native of China and Japan. Two geographical varieties are distinguished:

var japonica. – Branches straight and spreading; the leaves short, stout, dark green. Cone-scales with long acuminate processes, bracts also long-pointed; usually five seeds per scale. This is the typical variety.

var. sinensis Sieb. – Habit less dense than in the Japanese variety, with deflexed branches and longer, more slender terminal growths. Leaves longer and more slender, lighter green. Processes of cone-scales and tips of bracts shorter.

C. japonica was introduced to Kew in 1842, but not in quantity until 1844, when Fortune, then in the employ of the Horticultural Society, sent seeds from Shanghai. It was from a tree raised from this seed that Siebold described var. sinensis. The first direct introduction from Japan to this country appears to have been by Maries in 1879. But in 1853 Thomas Lobb obtained seed from trees in the Buitenzorg Botanic Garden, Java, to which they had been introduced by Siebold some thirty years earlier from Japan. Trees from this source have rather stiff, short branches, more tufted and bunchy at the ends, and not so elegant as the common form. They are usually distinguished as f. lobbii (Carr.) Beissn.

In Japan, C. japonica has been used as a forestry tree from time immemorial and must have become subdivided into numerous strains adapted to local soils and climates and differing somewhat in leaf, habit etc. Many of the artificial forests are so ancient, and have acquired such a deceptively natural aspect, that it is not certain where in Japan this species is to be regarded as genuinely native. However, it is certainly wild on Yakushima and perhaps in parts of S. Japan.

Although one of the great timber trees of the world, and once used in Japan more than any other, it has not proved so generally fine a tree in this country as might have been expected, the best specimens being mostly in the milder and moister parts and ranging from 85 to 90 ft in height and 10 to 12 ft in girth. It likes a deep good soil, a sheltered position, and abundant rainfall. Some trees of above-average size recorded recently are: Fonthill, Wilts., 104 × 1014 ft (1963) and 115 × 812 ft (1965); Embley Park, Hants, 102 × 1112 ft (1961), a superb tree; Woodhouse, Devon, 117 × 834 ft (1957); Bicton, Devon, 110 × 1014 ft (1965); Leaton Knolls, Shrops., 111 × 634 ft (1954); Redleaf, Kent, 100 × 10 ft (1963), with a fine bole; Northerwood House, Hants, 101 × 1234 ft (1963); Leighton Hall, Montg., 103 × 1114 ft (1960); Benmore, Argyll, 104 × 1034 ft (1964); Endsleigh, Devon, 113 × 812 ft (1963). In Ireland there is a tree with a fine bole at Fota, Co. Cork, 102 × 1012 ft (1966) and a handsome pair at Derreen, Co. Kerry, 95 × 1312 and 92 × 1214 ft (1966).

The following are garden varieties:

cv. ‘Araucarioides’. – A shrub to about 7 ft high with long, thin, slender, pendulous branches, with densely set leaves. Introduced from Japan by Siebold, but similar forms may have arisen in Europe as branch-sports.

cv. ‘Elegans’. – This, commonly known in gardens as “Cryptomeria elegans”, is a remarkable state, in which the foliage of the juvenile plant is retained permanently. The aspect of the tree is totally different from ordinary C. japonica, although the bark of the trunk has the same red-brown, peeling character. The leaves are on the whole larger, much softer, more slender, more spreading and wider apart on the branchlet than those of the type; they and the young shoots being a glaucous green in the summer, changing in autumn and winter to a bronzy red, very distinct, and remarkable among evergreens at that season. The leaves are reflexed at the tip, rather than incurved as in ordinary C. japonica. The whole tree is more bushy and dense than the type, and often falls over by its own weight; the trunks are very supple, and allow the crowns of trees 20 ft high to reach the ground without breaking. This form produces cones (rarely) which do not differ from those of the type. It bears pruning very well, and is often improved by it; if trees become top-heavy, they may be headed down far enough to become self-supporting. Introduced from Japan in 1861 by J. Gould Veitch. There is a dwarf dense-habited variety of it called ‘Elegans Nana’.

cv. ‘Nana’. – A dwarf form with stunted branches, of rather spreading habit, reaching eventually a height of about 5 ft; branchlets numerous, crowded and unequal. Leaves shorter and narrower than in the type, more densely set on the shoots. Introduced by Fortune.

cv. ‘Spiralis’. – A dwarf form of remarkable dense habit, the leaves being much incurved and twisted, so that the branchlet often suggests wire rope. Judging by experience at Kew, it is apt to revert to the type. Webster, in Hardy Coniferous Trees (1896) used the name C.j. spiralis for what is clearly a different form, with the leaves ‘so thickly and shortly set as to appear in a spiral manner throughout the entire length’ of the shoot.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

var. sinensis – The synonym C. fortunei Otto & Dietrich should have been added, this being the correct name for the Chinese race if regarded as a distinct species, as it is by some botanists.

specimens: Windsor Great Park, 100 × 1314 ft (1979); National Pinetum, Bedgebury, Kent, pl. 1925, 70 × 814 ft (1980); Benenden House, Kent, 95 × 10 ft and 92 × 11 ft (1979); Leonardslee, Sussex, 102 × 914 ft (1981); Northerwood House, Hants, 105 × 1314 ft (1976); Embley Park, Hants, the tree measured in 1971 has been blown down; Melbury, Dorset, 90 × 1314 ft (1980); Bicton, Devon, 110 × 1012 ft and 100 × 1034 ft (1977); Endsleigh, Devon, 120 × 1414 ft (1970), 118 × 1012 ft and two others slightly smaller (1971); Tregothnan, Cornwall, 98 × 1412 ft (1985); Trelissick, Cornwall, pl. c. 1898, 98 × 1412 ft (1979); Boconnoc, Cornwall, 92 × 1814 ft (1983); Bodnant, Gwyn., pl. 1877, 94 × 11 ft (1981); The Gliffaes Hotel, Powys, 72 × 1712 ft (1984); Monk Coniston, Lancs., 108 × 1734 ft (1983); Castle Kennedy, Wigt., 66 × 1334 ft (1979); Kilmony Castle, Argyll, 75 × 19 ft (1976); Eilean Sona, Argyll, 77 × 1414 ft (1976); Taymouth Castle, Perths., 92 × 1134 ft (1983); Shanes Castle, Co. Antrim, 77 × 1414 ft (1976); Coollattin, Co. Wicklow, Eire, 88 × 1214 ft (1975).

cv. ‘Araucarioides’. – This is a confused name. The epithet, as used by Siebold, applied to a low-growing clone of Japanese gardens, which he introduced to Europe in about 1859. This was introduced to Britain, and according to Kent grew to about 7 ft high. However, the C. j. araucarioides of Carrière was a seed-bed variant with similar foliage but attaining the normal height.

† cv. ‘Bandai-sugi’. – A bush of slow growth, attaining about 6 ft in height. Branchlets of two kinds: some short, closely set and reduced, others longer and with more normal foliage. The foliage is deep green, becoming bronze in winter.

cv. ‘Elegans’. – If it succeeds in staying upright, it can attain a considerable height, but usually makes a very unshapely specimen. ‘Elegans Nana’, which eventually attains a height of about 6 ft, is more suitable for small gardens. It is also known as ‘Elegans Compacta’. It should be remarked that the name ‘Elegans Nana’ has also been used for ‘Nana’, described in the main volume, although the two are quite unlike in foliage, the true ‘Elegans Nana’ having the same foliage as ‘Elegans’.

† cv. ‘Globosa Nana’. – A bushy form of globular habit, with normal foliage and pendulous branchlets, ultimately about 8 ft high. Described by Hornibrook in 1923.

cv. ‘Lobbii’. – This was mentioned on page 793 under its botanical name f. lobbii, but is best regarded as a cultivar. There are still a few old trees in collections, notably the one at Boconnoc, Cornwall, mentioned in the list of specimens.

cv. ‘Nana’. – Apart from “Elegans Nana” (see above), another horticultural synonym for this at one time, was ‘Lobbii Nana’.

cv. ‘Vilmoriniana’. – A dense, very slow-growing globular bush, with short, slender leaves, which turn brownish in winter. It was originally introduced to the Vilmorin collection at Les Barres as “Juniperus Japonica” and was described by Hornibrook under its present name in 1923.



Other species in the genus

[No species article available]