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Tree 40: Japanese Cedar

Latin name: Cryptomeria japonica
Family: Cupressaceae
Origin: Native to Japan and parts of China
Height: 55+ metres
Lifespan: 1000+ years
Autumn leaf loss: Evergreen
Gender Type: Monoecious (Male and female flowers on same tree)

The Japanese Cedar is a coniferous, evergreen tree and the national tree of Japan. It is a native of central & southern Japan and has been part of the history, culture, art, mythology and architecture of Japan for centuries, the wood having both aesthetic and commercial value. It is a visually beautiful tree with attractive foliage and reddish-brown peeling bark. It can grow very tall [over 55metres] with the oldest living specimens reputedly being over 2000 years old.

Its Japanese name, Sugi, means ‘straight trunk’ and explains, in part, why it has been valued so much for its timber. The wood itself is soft and light but very strong, aromatic and resistant to decay. In Japan & East Asia it has been used extensively to build houses, bridges & furniture and even its leaves are used to make incense. It was introduced into the UK in 1853 where it has been grown as an ornamental or specimen tree in gardens or parks.

Although it is called a cedar, the Cryptomeria japonica is, in fact, a member of the cypress family where it is the only species of the genus Cryptomeria. The name itself is a derivation from the Greek ‘crypto’ [meaning ‘hidden’] & ‘meres’ [meaning ‘item’ or ‘part’] and refers to the way in which the male & female parts are semi-hidden.

The tree itself has an imposing appearance when grown in its natural habit with its straight trunk, a pyramidal shape and dense branches spreading in concentric circles. It has, though, proved to be too large for many ornamental garden settings and so over the years, many cultivars have been developed including a dwarf variety. There has also been extensive use of the tree in bonsai. Look carefully and see if you can spot another specimen of this tree close to the Grand Fir which also features in the trail.