Platycladus orientalis: Oriental arborvitae

Family: Cupressaceae
Common name: Oriental arborvitae, Chinese arborvitae, Book leaf pine, Oriental thuja, Chinese thuja, Biota

An evergreen tree with dense, beautiful foliage, Oriental arborvitae can make beautiful centerpieces for your garden. They can be used as hedge plants or around swimming pools where they form opaque screens.

Oriental arborvitae trees can grow to a height of 20-25 meters with a trunk diameter of 50 cms. The arrangement of leaves is very interesting, especially in young plants, where they are arranged vertically pointing upwards and stacked one next to the other like the pages of a book, giving the plant its name ‘Book leaf pine’.

The leaves are dark green in color, but they might look brown or copper in color in older trees, especially in winter. The tips of new leaves are light green and bunched very close to each other, that they look like tiny beads at the edges of the leaves. The leaves have a light scent when bruised or crushed.

The trunk is grey-brown with deep fissures, with the bark peeling off in vertical strips. Oriental arborvitae plants produce male and female cones, the male ones being tiny, about 2-3 mm long, and the female cones about 2 cms long, initially green, turning brown on maturity.

They have tiny seeds inside which are about 5-6 mm, covered with thick scales of the cones, which open up like a flower on maturity. The tree has a relatively rounded structure when they are small, with vertically arranged branches of leaves. But when they are older, the tree opens up to some extent and forms a loosely rounded crown.

The name Platycladus denotes the flattened leaves arranged like plates. Oriental arborvitae plants are originally from China but are now found all over the world, grown as ornamental plants. They are ideal for gardens, parks, landscaping, xeriscapes, or even by the side of the road.

Some popular variants are Aurea Nana, a dwarf variant with dense, globular foliage; Conspicua with yellow-colored leaves; Westmont with yellow-tipped green leaves; Compacta having a very compact conical shape; Baker which is also a dwarf variant that grows in a conical shape; Juniperoides with blue-gray needle-like leaves.

The wood is reasonably sturdy and is used for construction, and also chipped into pieces be burnt as incense.

Propagation is through seeds.