Platycladus orientalis / Chinese arborvitae

Platycladus orientalis, as described in 1949 by (Linnaeus) João Manuel Antonio do Amaral Franco, in Portugaliae Acta Biologica, Série B, Sistemática, Ecologia, Biogeografia e Paleontolgia Julio Henriques is commonly known as Chinese or Oriental arborvitae; as well as 侧柏 (cè bó) in the Chinese language.

Description. Chinese arborvitae is a small, slow-growing, evergreen coniferous species of tree, which will grow to mature heights of 45 to 60 feet (15 - 20 meters) tall with a trunk up to 1.5 feet (0.5 meter) in diameter, measured at breast height. Exceptional specimens are known to grow to 150 feet (30 m) tall and 6 feet (2 m) in diameter as very old trees.

  • The foliage forms in flat sprays of scale-like leaves 0.08 to 0.16 inch (2 - 4 mm) long.
  • The seed cones measure 0.6 to 1 inch (15 - 25 mm) long, green ripening to brown roughly eight months after pollination. They have 6 to 12 thick scales arranged in opposing pairs.
  • The seeds are 0.16 to 0.24 inch (4 - 6 mm) long, with no wing.

Ethnobotany. It is used as an ornamental tree, both in its homeland, where it is associated with long life and vitality, and very widely elsewhere in temperate climates. The wood is used in Buddhist temples, both for construction work, and chipped for incense burning.

Distribution. This species is native to Korea, Eastern Russia, and China. Natural occurrences in China are difficult to distinguish from local introductions, owing to extensive cultivation and planting in the past. It is native in southern Gansu, Hebei, Henan, Shaanxi, Shanxi provinces; introduced or status uncertain in Anhui, Fujian, N Guangdong, northern Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Jilin, Liaoning, southern Nei Mongol, Shandong, Sichuan, Xizang, Yunnan, and Zhejiang provinces. It naturally occurs at elevations of 1,000 to 10,000 feet (300 - 3,300 m) above sea level. It has naturalized in Florida, USA.

Cold hardy to USDA Zone 5 (-10 to -20ºF / -23.3 to -28.9ºC).

Platycladus orientalis 'Sieboldii' in Warsaw University Botanical Garden, Poland.
Photo by Crusier via Wikipedia
Oriental arborvitae {Platycladus orientalis) — a branch with cones.
Photo by Luis Fernández García (2005)
Platycladus orientalis — a 1907 accession at the New York Botanical Garden, The Bronx, New York (USDA Hardiness Zone 7a); photo from 2020.
Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss
Platycladus orientalis — a closeup of foliage and seed cone detail.
Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss
Grand Haven, Michigan specimens on an abandoned evergreen nursery.
Photo by Brandon Johnson
Platycladus orientalis — an unnamed cultivar at the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a 1932 accession; photo from 2020.
Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss
Platycladus orientalis — a closeup of foliage detail.
Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss