Cryptomeria is a large evergreen tree, related to the bald cypress. The etymology of its name literally refers to “hidden things,” a reference to the lack of obvious flower parts, discussed elsewhere on this page. It is an ancient tree, thought to be at least 75 million years old and as such has long been fundamental to the cultures of Japan and China, where it is grown natively. In fact, it is the national tree of Japan, where it is called “sugi.”
In Japan, Sugi is revered, often planted around places of worship. It is a tall, impressive tree when full grown and is fundamental to the country’s national identity. In contrast, in the United States it is grown as an exotic plant, imported for very different reasons, especially for providing shade to properties and defining borders.
In Japan and China it has long been cultivated for its wood, a soft, fragrant timber. This wood is used extensively for ornament, especially due to its remarkable color variation, though it is also used, less commonly for construction. The tree is also cultivated for its resin from which cryptopimaric acid and phenolic acid are isolated, for tannins, for essential oils and medicinal oils, and aromatic incense.