Chamaecyparis obtusa, Hinoki Falsecypress
By: Anna Williamson, Chadwick Arboretum Horticultural Assistant
Going into winter is difficult for just about everyone, but especially difficult for gardeners and outdoors folk. While we understand and find beauty in the changing seasons, the dramatic shift from a green and lush landscape to a bare and cold one can be disheartening to say the least. There are many plants, though, that maintain their beauty right through winter, the most common being evergreens. Chamaecyparis obtusa, or Hinoki Falsecypress, is a unique and beautiful evergreen conifer with rich historical significance that can be found in the arboretum.
The name hinoki means ‘fire tree’. The wood is used by rubbing it together to make friction and create fire in Shinto shrines in Japan, a practice still done today. The wood is also very significant to Japanese architecture and was used to construct vast amounts of Shinto temples and shrines, making the tree sacred to the Shinto religion. The wood was favored because it was durable, rot and decay resistant, and could often be reused in construction. The bark and foliage are fragrant and can be used in essential oils. Due to overharvesting during the Edo period in the 8th century, it is known as one of the ‘Five Sacred Trees of Kiso’.
Hinoki cypress is known for its slow growth and importance in Japan. It is native to Japan and Taiwan where it can grow up to 120’ in its native habitat as compared to 50’ to 75’ in the landscape. The Hinoki Falsecypress has a pyramidal shape and flat, horizontal leaves that are blunt around the edges, giving it a unique look from other evergreen conifers. It prefers well-drained and moist soils in part to full sun and is susceptible to juniper blight, root rot, and pests such as bagworms.