Cryptomeria japonica 'Black Dragon' / black dragon Japanese cedar

Cryptomeria japonica 'Black Dragon' gets its name from its dark green needles that, in shade, almost look black. It has a dense, irregular pyramidal shape that, to some onlookers, after a some warm saki, might resemble a rearing dragon.

New growth in spring is light green, typical of the species, but quickly darkens up by midsummer. When its growth habit leaves openings to the trunk you'll see orange-ish brown exfoliating bark. It doesn't like strong winds (hot or cold) so it needs some protection but be sure to give it adequate air circulation to prevent prolonged wet needles which lead to fungal disease.

After 10 years of growth, a mature specimen will measure 6 feet (2 m) tall and 3 feet (1 m) wide, an annual growth rate of 6 to 8 inches (15 - 20 cm).

This cultivar originated as a seedling selected in the mid-1980s by Iseli Nursery, Boring, Oregon, USA. Time has proven 'Black Dragon' to be one of the most popular dwarf conifers in the trade. At this link is Iseli nursery's description of this conifer with more pictures.

Black Dragon Japanese cedar photographed in Brunswick, Maine in 2013.
Photo by Sean Callahan
Cryptomeria japonica 'Black Dragon' — a closeup of foliage detail.
Photo by Sean Callahan
Pollen cones of Cryptomeria japonica ‘Black Dragon' in the Gardens of the Big Bend, Quincy, Florida.
Photo by Janice LeCocq
Cryptomeria japonica ‘Black Dragon' in the Gardens of the Big Bend, Quincy, Florida.
Photo by Janice LeCocq



I purchased a Cryptomeria japonica 'Black Dragon' (dwarf Japanese cedar. I live in the coastal town of San Clemente, CA (zone 10). We are 1/2 mile from the beach. I am wondering if this will survive and what the root system is like? I want to plant in the ground but the location is near sprinklers and plumbing. Not sure if I should plant it in a large pot? Help.... thank you.

Web Editor

I have two in 9b in Sonoma County CA and they are doing very well, despite my dry summer air. They are native to Japan, which is humid in summer, so I am mindful of keeping them well-mulched and with reasonable irrigation. I doubt that their roots will disturb your plumbing. However, I think that it would work fine in a container, just don't pick one that is too small, make sure that your planting medium is well-draining (I use cactus soil when I plant conifers in containers) and you'll have to fertilize sporadically.

Carolyn Tapp

My black dragon is completely brown ?dead on one side the other side is green what do i do and why did this happen ( its 2-3 yrs old)

Maxwell Cohn

Hi Carolyn ... lots of things could have happened:
► sun scorch
► got too dry
► got too wet
► dog peed on it
► mechanical damage.

Bottom line, if the branches are dead, they won't come back. Trim them off and hope for the best.

Constance Kuyoth

Some branches are turning brown can I trim off the dark areas and will it be OK?

Maxwell Cohn

hi Constance ... the first step in a proper conifer pruning and maintenance program is to remove deadwood at first siting. Prune away! Your tree will be happier and healthier for it.

Frances Rizzo

I'm in Greenville SC, I have beautiful new growth on top and then some branches are just brown.

Maxwell Cohn

Cryptomerias do this in the fall — lots of shedding of old branches and foliage. Prune away and clean out the dead stuff.


Our cryptomeria has quite a bit of browning on the bottom but the foliage is still supple. The other we have in a pot as well 10 ft away is completely green. What should I do?

Maxwell Cohn

if the foliage is brown and dry, potentially becoming black, it is dead and is being consumed by fungus. Please remove that dead foliage. Potted conifers are sometimes more prone to disease.

Web Editor

Cryptomeria are also known (around here anyway, with our Mediterranean climate) for producing copious amounts of brown interior foliage, always more prevalent at the bottom. A photo might be instructive.


Hi - I have 3 of these cedars. They all look very different from each other. One is very broad in the top section and very sparse in the middle. It looks too irregularly shaped. The other 2 have some branches that stick out much further than the other ones. What is the best way to shape/prune them? Is it possible to create more fullness in the middle of the first one I mentioned? For the other 2, can I pinch off or shorten the stray long branches?

Maxwell Cohn

Hi Wendy ... 'Black Dragon' is very amenable to pruning. Specifically how to aesthetically prune a conifer is not possible in a forum answer. It's an art form that requires a bit of formal instruction and a lot of practice. Good news is that if you mess something up, it'll only look strange for a year or two.


I have a spot in a courtyard that gets mid day and afternoon sun. I live in Dallas, TX. Will 'Black Dragon' live here? I will have irrigation.

Judith Wetty

Where can I purchase a 6-foot tall 'Black Dragon' Cryptomeria tree?


I live in Zone 6B (-5) on the east coast. I have a 'Black Dragon' Cryptomeria that is 17 inches tall by 13 inches wide and beautiful. Zone 6B is (-5)

Can it be planted for just this winter in soil in an above ground pot that has bright light but is sheltered from winds? Or am I taking a chance I should not?!

To David -- I got mine at Kent nurseries in Connecticut.

Maxwell Cohn

Hi Trish, you're right at this one's hardiness limit. It'll probably survive, but not thrive. I've seen them suffer during the winter in NJ.


Thanks David - I should proof my messages; I meant 6a is (-10) but you probably knew that!


Hello- I live in 7a zone, would love to plant a Black Dragon in the front of my house but it’s East facing, so may only get 5 hours of the early morning hr sun not the 6 hours I hear it requires. Do they not thrive on east facing locations? Thank you much!

David Olszyk

I've had a 'Black Dragon' going in a semi-shaded area (no full sun ever) for 15 years. It looks great! If your plant gets a half-day of full sun, it'll be fine.


My husband accidentally scuffed the bark on my Black Dragon Japanese Cedar. The scuff is about 12 inches long and two inches wide. It isn't very deep, but it definitely removed the bark. Do I need to protect the wound? If so, what do you suggest using?

David Olszyk

Hi Lori, you didn't say how big your plant is to begin with. If the would is less than 30% of the total bark area, it'll be fine. Latest recommendations say to not mess with tapes and sealers. Let it heal naturally.


I purchased a black dragon a few weeks ago. It's about 3 feet tall and has good width. The issue is some of the branches have some brown in them, including the little flowers on the tips. Is that normal? Also, I'm in Zone 6A (Mass) and I'm wondering if it's better to keep it potted and bring it inside the greenhouse during the winter months or planted on the ground?


How much shade can the Black Dragon tolerate? I'm surprised there's no information on this in the species description above.

Sara Malone

Philip look up a few comments and you will see one from David Olszyk from a month ago regarding his 'Black Dragon' experience in shade. He's in WA state, zone 8A. I'm in Sonoma County, CA, zone 9b and I have one that is shaded about 1/2 day. They certainly thrive in full sun, as long as they get enough water and are in relatively rich soil. If you plan to grow it in shade, make sure to adjust watering accordingly as it won't need quite as much.

Robert Tyree

Just purchased my black dragon. It is approx 3.5-4.0 feet. It has a long limb ( about 2.5 ft off to one side and few more shorter limbs. If I stand my tree with long limb straight up will the rest grow outward and upward? Next, I have no idea how to plant this tree. I’m in zone 8 to 10 I think. Lower Alabama. 8 miles from the coast. Any info will be appreciated. Thanks Robert