Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Blue Surprise' / Blue Surprise Lawson cypress

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Blue Surprise' is a dense, upright, narrowly conical selection of Lawson cypress with striking, steel-blue juvenile foliage on reddish stems. In colder parts of the world, foliage will assume more of a purple cast in winter. After 10 years of growth, a mature specimen will measure 6 feet (2 m) tall and 2 feet (60 cm) wide, an annual rate of growth of 6 to 8 inches (15 - 20 cm).

It must be emphasized that this cultivar is highly prone to Phytophthera lateralis, a water-borne fungal disease of the roots. If grown on its own roots, it absolutely must be sited in drier sites in freely draining soil. Otherwise the custodian is highly advised to seek out specimens grafted onto disease-resistant (DR) understock that is becoming more prevalent in the nursery trade.

This cultivar originated as a seedling selected by Anthony P. J. de Beer, Tilburg, The Netherlands, who also introduced it to the nursery trade in 1976. 'Blue Surprise' is one of two plants selected in 2017 for inclusion in the ACS Collectors' Conifer of the Year Program.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Blue Surprise' — a typical young specimen at the Flora Wonder Arboretum, Gaston, Oregon.
Photo by Buchholz & Buchholz nursery
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Blue Surprise' — a fantastic mature specimen in a private garden in Hungary.
Photo by Profi Faiskola nursery


Bob Guilbeault

In April 2016 we planted a 6 foot Blue Surprise in our front yard. Today it's about 9 feet tall. Will this growth continue for years to come or is there an approximate maximum height it will grow to?

Maxwell Cohn

Hi Bob, first, I'd like to establish for you that all conifers grow at a similar yearly rate for 50-200 years. There is no such thing as "maximum height."

The quick answer for 'Blue Surprise' is, nobody knows. This cultivar is notorious for sudden death due to Phytophthera lateralis, a fungal pathogen that attacks the roots. I've honestly not heard of one surviving to 6-feet tall, let alone 9-feet tall.

Where do you live? Is your plant grafted onto disease-resistant rootstock? If it's on its own roots, you're amazingly fortunate that it hasn't died yet.

Bob Guilbeault

We think it’s growing too tall and plan on removing it. We live in Bellevue Washington.

Erica Epling

I have one, planted in 2000, which is now a good 15+ ft tall. A surprise indeed! It is about 4’ wide. Although I didn’t plan for this height, it is beautiful. The problem is it is starting to splay (no significant snow in our area). I tuck these limbs in but that only works temporarily. Is there anything that can be done to help prevent this? We too are in Western WA. I have no idea what rootstock it is on. There is some lower branches that seem to be dying off but the tree generally appears healthy. How does the fungus present itself?

David Olszyk

congratulations, Erica ... very few have gotten a 'Blue Surprise' to stay alive so long. The splaying you describe may become known as "typical in older plants." Right now we don't know because so few specimens have gotten so large. You can try doing some light shearing to rogue branches, but that's only going to be a temporary fix. What are you going to do 30 feet from now?

If you were to come down with Phytophthera, you'd know it pretty quick. One day the vibrant color would be muted, and 3 days later, the entire tree will be reddish brown and quite dead. It happens that fast.

Maria Hopkins

I live in ormond beach Fl. Ocean side 32176 ca this beautiful evergreen be safe to plant here is it salt tolerant or can u suggest one that is thank you