Grace in the Garden: The Hinoki Cypress

Note: The original draft of this post was written on September 1, 2018.

Hinoki Cypress Leaves

Chamaecyparis obtusa, the Hinoki Cypress (or Falsecypress), stands quietly in the garden, commanding attention but requiring minimal care. Pruning shears rarely are needed for this self-contained evergreen that seldom produces stray or unbalanced growth. From the upright trunk, branches extend horizontally into flattened, slightly drooping sprays of tiny, scale-like leaves that end in a ruffled edge. Against a backdrop of garden stone or the bare grain of a wood fence, the Hinoki takes on the appearance of sculpture. It gives the sense of keeping watch.

Perhaps this presence contributes to the status of the Hinoki as an honored tree in Japan. Its aromatic wood is a favored choice for Japanese soaking tubs, and for centuries, the preferred material for constructing temples and other traditional structures.1 Logging has reduced the number of Hinoki Cypresses in the wild, which may exceed 100 feet in height, and in Japan the species is listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.2 The domesticated scene is different. In Japanese gardens, and throughout Europe and the U.S., the Hinoki is planted in increasing numbers as gardeners choose from an expanding variety of cultivars.

Those cultivars range from six-inch golden globes perfect for containers to the dark green ‘Nana Gracilis’, a slender dwarf form in comparison to the species, which grows to six feet in height and three to four feet in width and works well as a focal point in the landscape.

Underside of Hinoki Cypress Leaves

Hinoki Cypresses thrive in the humidity of the Mid-Atlantic but are not swamp creatures; the moist soil they require must have good drainage. They prefer sun and are able to withstand drought, but as with many evergreens, need to be protected from freezing winter winds.

Why Falsecypress? The Hinoki is a member of Cupressaceae, the cypress family of conifers, but has smaller cones and slightly different foliage than a true cypress.3 The cones develop in clusters, have distinctive markings, may require close viewing to find, and are more ornamental than a draw for wildlife.

The Hinoki is a plant for the eye. With its sculptural form and measured growth, it’s an evergreen that adds grace to the garden.


1. Kennedy, Corinne. “Hinoki: A Revered Conifer.” Seattle Japanese Garden. December 16, 2016.

2. Farjon, A. 2013. Chamaecyparis obtusa. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T42212A2962056. Downloaded on 01 September 2018.

3. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “False cypress.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. December 22, 2017.

If you’d like to read more . . .

“Chamaecyparis obtusa in Flora of China @” Flora of China. Vol. 4, Page 68. Accessed September 1, 2018.

“Chamaecyparis obtusa – Plant Finder.” Missouri Botanical Garden. Accessed September 1, 2018.

“Conifer Species: Chamaecyparis obtusa.” American Conifer Society. Attributed from: Chris Earle, The Gymnosperm Database, ©2012. Accessed September 1, 2018.

“Conifer Trinomial: Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’.” American Conifer Society. Accessed September 1, 2018.

Gilman, Edward F. and Dennis G. Watson. “Chamaecyparis obtusa: Hinoki Falsecypress.” ENH315. Environmental Horticulture, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2006. Reviewed May 2011.

SelecTree. “Chamaecyparis obtusa Tree Record.” 1995-2018. September 1, 2018.

Edgings Plant Bio #2

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