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Hinoki False Cypress

January 13, 2009

By Eric Larsonhinoki

Our plant is a great evergreen accent in the small garden. One of the challenges or ‘opportunities’ in garden design has to do with winter interest: how do you keep your garden looking good and interesting even when it’s blowing snow and ice sideways and the only adventurous beings are the birds who have no choice?

Once you start considering, there are a whole list of attributes to consider: berries or seed pods (as in Hollies and others); form such as grasses, yucca and contorted filbert; exfoliating bark such as Stewartia, Paper-bark Maples and others; plants that feed winter-resident birds; and evergreens. Our plant combines being evergreen with an interesting form.

Hinoki False-Cypress is a native of Japan, as if that would surprise us from the common name, but also Formosa.  The species grows from fifty to seventy five feet high in cultivation, with a very narrow spread (10-20 feet).  In the wild it will grow to over a hundred feet.  It’s a member of the Cypress family, Cupressaceae, along with about 30other genera and around a hundred and fifty species.  The genus name comes from the Greek: chamai for ‘dwarf,’ and kuparissos which is the Greek name for the Cypress. The species name comes from the shape of the leaves which are blunt. ‘Nana’ is a word that refers to the small size of our particular plant (think ‘nanotechnology) and ‘gracilis’ points towards a feathery beautiful shape.

The cupped-shape leaf-clusters and stem ends are a wonderful catcher’s mitt for the snow as the image below only begins to illustrate (sorry for the poor photo).  This tough plant prefers full sun, well drained but moist soil of an acid or neutral pH and some protection from drying winter winds, although ours do well in a pretty exposed spot. Sometimes I have seen bagworms on these plants, but their small size facilitates hand  removal. Other than that pest, these lovely little plants are trouble-free.  C. obtusa ‘Nana gracilis’ grows slowly to six feet, although I have seen some  even larger. Ours growing in pots have found their natural size limit at about two feet and change. They do well in pots, can be used as accents, in the shrub border or even as a  small hedge.

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