Japanese Falsecypress

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
The Japanese falsecypress, also commonly known as the sawara falsecypress, is a medium to large-sized conifer. The tree is native to Japan but its planting potential has a widespread distribution across North America. The origin of its genus name "Chamaecyparis" is from the Greek words "chamai," meaning low growing, and "kyparissos," meaning cypress, which references its habitat and relationship to other genus members. Its species, "pisifera," means "bearing pea-like seeds," because of the small, rounded seeds and cones. The smaller rounded cones with fewer seeds are the characteristic that distinguishes the false cypress from the true cypress.
Jane O'Bryan
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Conical (Though it is pyramidal when the tree is young and gradually opens up to be conical as it matures.)
Date of tree entry: 
26.37 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.72 m

The bark of the Japanese falsecypress is red-brown in color, fibrous, and shredding. The 3 images above show the characteristic peeling/shredding of the bark on the tree trunk. On the branches, the bark is more brown than red and appears to be thicker at divergence points (elbows/splitting of branches,) as pictured in the third image above.
Twigs & branches
The Japanese falsecypress is conical in shape, however as a young tree it is pyramidal in shape and the branches open up with maturation. The branches, as pictured above, are thin in circumference compared to the base trunk and extend outward, gently drooping at the tips due to the fanned foliage.The branches droop more as the tree grows so in a residential setting or as a ornamental or decorative tree, the branches must be pruned to retain tree shape. It is recommended that pruning take place from late spring to early fall.
The foliage of this particular Japanese falsecypress is green, however foliage of this conifer can vary from green to having a blue tint to bright yellow. The scale-like foliage which overlaps like roof shingles is characterized as having apressed leaves that are produced on flat shoots and fan out in sprays from the twigs and stems. The scale-like foliage alternates pairs, is aromatic when crushed and is 1/12" to 1/8" long The first image above is a close-up photograph of the green scale-like foliage seen in springtime. The second image is the orange/brown foliage seen on the underside of some branches during winter and in the months after winter. The third image shows characteristic fanned growth pattern of the foliage.
Reproductive Structures
The Japanese falsecypress is a monoecious gymnosperm, meaning that it does not have flowers but has seeds contained in cones and both the male and femal sporangia are produced on the same tree. Meiosis occurs in the male pollen cones as well as the female ovulate cones and the tree is pollinated when a pollon grain of the same species (genetically compatible) comes into direct contact with the ovule. Germination of the pollen grain then takes place and it subsequently fertilizes the egg nucleus, which develops into an embryo. After approximately 1 year, small, round, pea-like seed, consisting of an embryo surrounded by a seed coat for protection and nutritious tissue for sustenance will have been developed.
The male cone of the monoecious Japanese falsecypress is a round, leathery cone, pictured in the first above image, and male cones are found in abundance at the shoot tips. Female cones, pictured in the second image above, are wrinkled and globose. Cones approximately 1/4" in diameter. Both male and female cones intially yellow-green in color, however the male cone takes on the leathery texture and turns brown, as pictured. Each cone has 6 to 8 shield-shaped scales with a small bump on each one. Approximately 1 year is necessary for the maturation of the tree's cones.
  • Spring
  • Summer
  • Summer
  • Winter
Natural range of distribution: 
Though native to Japan, the Japanese Falsecypress has a wide range of distribution in North America and the above map shows its distribution by planting potential across the United States. The tree can live in hardiness zones 4a-8b. It thrives in full sun and prefers moist, well-drained, and neutral to slightly acidic soils. It has low tolerance of shade and salt and medium tolerance of drought, poor drainage, alkalinity and transplanting.
Origin, history, and uses: 

In Japan, where it grows natively, as well as throughout North America where it is cultivated, the falsecypress is used as ornamental decoration in parks and gardens, especially in its dwarf cultivar forms, which are characterized by bright foliage. It is used as ornamental decoration and at places such as temples, shrines and palaces and also cultivated plantation-style and used as timber to build these temples, shrines, palaces, and even coffins.

A Japanese Landscape called the Gateway of the Imperial Messenger was created for the 1910 for Japan-British exhibition, mimicking the Karamon of Nishi Hongan-ji in Kyoto, and a replica, designed by a professor named Fukuhara of Osaka University was constructed in 1996 following restoration of the Gateway. The garden is a true manifestation of “biophilia” in that it is composed of a garden of peace and a garden of activity and has elements to symbolize the beauty of the natural world and its movements. The Imperial Highnesses Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko planted a falsecypress when they visited the garden in reverence for the tree and its importance to the Shinto faith, as was customary. When the landscape was opened in 1996, Her Imperial Highness Princess Sayako planted a Magnolia kobus in the garden, following this tradition.

There are many cultivars with a great variety of foliage coloration and some are dwarf. Some include:

Filifera, which has fine-textured, drooping stringy branches, is slow-growing and can reach 20 to 25’ tall.

Plumosa, which has feathery textured leaves and can reach 30 to 50’ tall.
Squarrosa, which has gray-green needle-like leaves, is feathery and is capable of growing to 30 to 40’ tall.
Golden Mop, a popular dwarf cultifar known for its golden yellow foliage.

The dwarf cultivars or cultivars on the smaller side are utilized as specimens (in exhibitions and as teaching tools,) as foundation plantings and in hedges to create privacy in residential neighborhoods. There are miniature versions of the cultivars that sometimes appear in bonsai, rock gardens, and Alpine gardens. The full-size cultivars, which can grow upwards of 30 feet, are typically used to create privacy in residential neighborhoods, or they are used as screens or windbreakers. The cultivars, especially those with vibrantly colored foliage, are considered very attractive and so outside of Japan, this tree is generally used as ornamental decoration.

The Japanese falsecypress exists in hardiness zones 4a-8b so it is weathers the winter and harsh winds well, however lack of rain and moisture in the soil during hot summer periods or period of drought do not bode well for it. As long as there is sufficient moisture, the tree thrives in full sun. The seasons of spring and fall are the preferred and recommended as planting times for this tree, and late summer is the seasonal time recommended for root semi-ripe cuttings for propogation. Late winter or spring are the recommended seasonal times for grafting of dwarf cultivars. As a conifer (evergreen,) this tree is not decidous, however some foliage does die during the winter time and becomes orange/brown in color. The tree is monoecious and as such produces both female and male cones that mature in approximately 1 year's time.

Kew Royal Botanical Gardens. Japanese Landscape: Historical Information. http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/create-attractions-here/japanese-la…

Fine Gardening: Chamaecyparis False Cypress http://www.finegardening.com/plantguide/chamaecyparis-obtusa-aurea-hinok…

Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences: University of Florida. Chamaecyparis pisifera. http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/database/documents/pdf/true_fact_sheets/chaobta…

Tree Browser: Falsecypress, Sawara or Japanese http://www.treebrowser.org/index.cfm?controller=final&action=details&key…

American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers. Chamaecyparis. http://books.google.com/books?id=dBgPoWCQowC&pg=PA536&lpg=PA536&dq=yello…

University of Washington. Gymnosperms. http://courses.washington.edu/bot113/summer/WebReadings/gymnospermPlants…

Encyclopedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. False Cypress. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/200992/false-cypress

Conifers Around the World: Chamaecyparis pisifera. http://conifersaroundtheworld.com/blog/chamaecyparis_pisifera_sawara_cyp…

University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and the Environment. Chamaecyparis pisifera. http://dept.ca.uky.edu/PLS320/Lecture12Cupressaceae2.pdf

Wells, M.M. Yale Nature Walk Project. https://classesv2.yale.edu/access/content/group/eeb223l_s14/Lab%20week%2…

Memphis Botanical Garden. Japanese False Cypress. http://memphisbotanicgarden.com/default.aspx?p=89633&evtid=64707:12/31/2013


Original Photography by Jane O’Bryan

Image of female cone: http://conifersaroundtheworld.com/blog/chamaecyparis_pisifera_sawara_cyp…

Media and Arts
A tree-inspired dance in tribal belly dance style using feather fans