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Chamaecyparis pisifera

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Squarrosa' - Sawara cypress ’Squarrosa’


 The Sawara cypress is almost completely unknown to the general public though it has been grown in Finland since the early 1900s. It is a popular garden tree in its native Japan where, over the centuries, a huge range of selected forms has been produced. Some of these retain their juvenile needle form of foliage, like this ‘Squarrosa’ variety. It so confused western botanists that at first it was ascribed to its own genus Retinospora. Normally the cypresses have scale-like leaves, like the thujas, or arborvitae.

Old ’Squarrosa’ trees can be found growing at least in Helsinki and Lappeenranta. They are rather sparse in appearance, and the old brown needles remain long on the trees. This variety is at its best when young. Mustila’s specimens were planted in 1998 and have so far developed surprisingly dense foliage. The winter hardy cypresses are modest in size and slender, offering an excellent alternative to the larger-growing Canadian white cedar (Thuja occidentalis).


Chamaecyparis pisifera - Sawara cypress


The Sawara cypress is a conifer species belonging to the genus Chamaecyparis, the false cypresses. In its native Japan it can reach 50 metres tall on the middle slopes of cold moist mountains. The Sawara is probably the hardiest of the genus and has grown well in the south of Finland, including Mustila, since the 1930s.

In Japan the Sawara cypress is so highly regarded that it is included among ”Kiso’s five sacred trees” of the Shinto religion, and its felling was prohibited in the Edo-period of the 1700s. The saying “one tree – one neck” dates from the same period, when stealing the wood from the forests was punishable by death. The species is still highly favoured in the construction industry because its close-textured timber is in a class of its own in resistance to both the elements and to insects. In nursery production for gardens, the characteristic variability has produced dozens of forms and habits.

The earliest false cypress fossils have been found on Axel Heiberg Island in the Canadian Arctic. The ancient species Chamaecyparis eureka grew there during the Eocene (over 30 million years ago), showing the characteristics typical of the genus: flattened fan-like, scaly shoots and round cones; so this prehistoric ancestor resembled the modern Sawara.


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