Cryptomeria japonica: Japanese cedar

Family: Cupressaceae
Common name: Japanese cedar, Japanese redwood, Sugi

Japanese cedars are large ever-green trees that can grow to a height of 60 meters in their natural habitat with a trunk diameter of 4 meters. Sturdy reddish-brown trunks are characterized by peeling strips of wood. Japanese cedar leaves are thin, needle-like about 1cm long.

Once the tree is about 5 years old, they produce cones that are globular about 1-2 cms in diameter. Seed cones are borne in clusters of about 4-5 with 20-30 scales arranged in a rosette-shape. These cones contain dark brown seeds, which is about 5 mm long with tiny wings.

These trees are related to Cupressus Macrocarpa or Lemon cypress and also to the Giant sequoia. Also called Sugi, Japanese cedar trees were introduced into China from Japan hundreds of year ago, and now they are very common in China.

These trees grow well in well-drained, rich soil where the roots can run deep. There are about 200 variants under cultivation, most of them smaller and more compact.

The common cultivars are ‘Black Dragon’ which is small tree with dense leaves; ‘Elegans’ which can be grown as a garden shrub, ‘Kilmacurragh’ a dwarf variant with juvenile green leaves, ‘Koshyi’ a spreading dwarf tree, ‘Ryoko-gyoku’ a dwarf variant with a short rounded crown, ‘Sekkan-Sugi’ a tree with yellowish leaves at the tips.

‘Elegans’ is a very popular variant that can retain is juvenile green leaves throughout its lifetime. Some dwarf variants are used as bonsai plants and in rock gardens.

Sugi is the national tree of Japan and there are some roads lined with Japanese cedar trees planted many centuries ago. The tree is also featured in old Japanese literature, showing the importance and reverence given to this stately tree.

It has a conical or pyramid-like structure adding to the beauty of the landscape. These tree are monoecious, which means that the seed cones are either male or female, but both are contained in the same tree. Pollination is mainly through wind.

Timber from this tree is very sturdy, fragrant, disease and insect-resistant, making it an ideal choice for construction of boxes, cabinets, casks, furniture, handles and implements. The tree is also used for constructing houses in mountainous climes like Sikkim and Darjeeling in India.

Though Sugi trees are mainly seen in forests in Japan and China, they are now cultivated all over the world as ornamental trees and for timber. The word Sugi means ‘hair tree’ which denotes the thin leaves and droopy branches of the Japanese cedar tree.

Propagation is through seeds.

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