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Chamaecyparis pisifera (photo courtesy of Proven Winners)
Chamaecyparis pisifera (photo courtesy of Proven Winners)

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Zones vary by species.
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Regular Water


False Cypress
Evergreen, Shrubs, Trees

Intensive selection has brought these Japanese and American timber trees down in scale, so most varieties fit well into suburban gardens (some even work as container plants). Dense, richly textured foliage makes them easy to mistake for arborvitae (Thuja), but arborvitae’s leaves are entirely green, while false cypresses have white lines on the leaf undersides. Most have two distinct types of foliage: juvenile and mature. Juvenile leaves are short, needlelike, soft but often prickly; they appear on young plants and some new growth of larger trees. Mature foliage consists of tiny, scalelike, overlapping leaves. Cones are small and round.

New varieties appear each year—hundreds are on the market at any moment—and mislabeling is common, since many of these plants closely resemble one another. Numerous dwarf and variegated kinds are well suited for bonsai and rock gardens.

All except C. thyoides are native to the Pacific Rim, so they prosper in humid environments. Pinch out or cut back tips of new growth to control size and shape; don’t cut back into old, leafless wood. All types, including trees, can be sheared into hedges. All need good drainage and protection from wind.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)

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Chamaecyparis lawsoniana

Narrow, graceful, 200-ft. Western timber tree (60 ft. in gardens) with lacy, drooping foliage. Its small selections once enjoyed popularity in the landscape, but a fatal soil-borne disease, Phytophthora lateralis, quenched their popularity. A new phytophthora-resistant rootstock called the Guardian from Oregon State University has fueled a resurgence of interest in this beautiful native. The first varieties released on this rootstock are ‘Blue Surprise’ (6 ft. tall, 2 ft. wide, with silvery blue juvenile foliage), ‘Golden King’ (to 40 ft. tall and half as wide, with golden yellow foliage), ‘Silberstar’ (to 40 ft. tall and half as wide, with silver-blue foliage), and ‘Yvonne’ (to 20 ft. tall, 12 ft. wide, with golden-tipped green foliage). Many others will doubtless follow.

Chamaecyparis obtusa

Native to Japan. The species grows to 30 ft. tall, but most Hinoki cypresses are selected varieties. There are dozens of golden, dwarf, and fern-leafed forms.

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Cyano-Viridis’ (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)
Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Cyano-Viridis’ (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)

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Chamaecyparis pisifera

Japanese native to 20–30 ft., rarely seen except in its garden varieties. Silvery blue-green ‘Cyano-Viridis’ (‘Boulevard’) is a dense, slow-growing bush to 6–8 ft. tall and wide. ‘Filifera’, a dense mound to 8 ft., has drooping, threadlike branchlets; ‘Filifera Aurea’ has similar branchlets in yellow. ‘Mops’ has threadlike branchlets, forms a 1–2-ft. mound.

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