Chamaecyparis pisifera / sawara cypress

Chamaecyparis pisifera, as described in 1847 by (Siebold et Zuccarini) Stephan Friedrich Ladislaus Endlicher (1804–1849), in Synopsis Coniferarum, 64th edition, is commonly known as サワラ (sawara) in the Japanese language; as well as sawara false-cypress or sawara cypress in English.

Description. Sawara cypress is slow-growing, evergreen, coniferous species of tree that grows to mature heights of 110 to 160 feet (35–50 m) tall with a trunk up to 6.5 feet (2 m) in diameter.

  • The bark is red-brown in color, and vertically fissured, with a stringy texture.
  • The foliage is arranged in flat sprays. Adult leaves are scale-like, measuring 0.7 inch (1.5 – 2 mm) long with pointed tips (unlike the blunt tips of the leaves of the related Chamaecyparis obtusa [Hinoki cypress]). Foliage color is green above, and green below with a white stomatal band at the base of each scale-leaf. They are arranged in opposite decussate pairs on the shoots.
  • Juvenile leaves, found on young seedlings, are needle-like, measuring 0.15 to 0.3 inch (4 – 8 mm) long, soft and are glaucous bluish green in color.
  • Seed cones have globose shape and measure 0.15 to 0.3 inch (4 – 8 mm) in diameter, and are comprised of 6 to 10 scales arranged in opposing pairs. Seed cones mature in autumn about 7 to 8 months after pollination.

Distribution. This species is native to Japan, on the islands of Honshū and Kyūshū, where it can be found in moist soils in the humid temperate zone.

Cold hardy to USDA Zone 5 (-10 to -20°F / -23.3 to -28.9°C), perhaps colder under certain conditions.

Humphrey Welch and Gordon Haddow, The World Checklist of Conifers (First Edition ©August 1993); Landsman Bookshop Ltd.

All seedlings in this species, on their way to maturity, pass through several stages that are outwardly distinguished by differences in the foliage — from the initial juvenile (technically "squarrose") leaf-form through a semi-juvenile (technically "plumose") stage on to the final adult leaf. Occasionally, a particular seedling will suspend its "growing up" at some point and develop into an interesting and unusual little plant. In several cases, such a "hang-up" has turned out to be a "fixation" resulting in new cultivars being brought into cultivation, and in the past (no longer permitted) the explanatory words 'Squarrosa ' and 'Plumosa' have been inserted into the cultivar names. This raises problems for the nomenclaturist. The stages are not abrupt and may co-exist within a plant or regress following damage. One must therefore take care to ensure that only plants true-to-type in the recommended "named forms" are propagated and that new selections are never introduced to the trade until they have been tested for many years.

Chamaecyparis pisifera Green Industry Images Copyrighted Photograph; Donated by Ernie Wiegand.
Photo by Ernie Wiegand
Chamaecyparis pisifera — a closeup of foliage and seed cones.
Photo by Derek Ramsey via Wikipedia
Chamaecyparis pisifera at Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.
Photo by Bruce Marlin, via Wikipedia


Glenn Herold

Chamaecyparis pisifera is easily hardy to Zone 5, possibly Zone 4.