Thursday, November 21, 2019

My Chamaecyparis Career




Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Compacta'


The Chamaecyparis genus (False cypress) is well represented at Buchholz Nursery. We produce four main categories: C. obtusa, C. lawsoniana; C. pisifera and C. nootkatensis, but since the latter has been shifted to Xanthocyparis (or Callitropsis) we'll concern ourselves with just the first three. In the past I also puttered with C. formosensis – the Taiwan cedar – but due to weak sales, probably because of perceived non-hardiness and the fact that I knew of no cultivars, that species was discontinued. I regret that I didn't leave at least one specimen in the collection because its blue-green flattened foliage was quite attractive. I also grew briefly C. funebris, but in any case it was eventually classified as a Cupressus.

I like The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014) description of the Chamaecyparis genus: “The few species have given rise in cultivation to an astonishing number of cultivars covering a wide range of shapes and sizes, with foliage varying in form and colour. A few are really dwarf, others are merely slow-growing, while many are as vigorous as the typical form.”































Chamaecyparis lawsoniana


I have mixed feelings about the C. lawsoniana species, and in particular I don't care for the straight species itself. It is native to southwest Oregon and northwest California where it grows into a large conical tree with gray-green foliage, and though the horizontal branches develop a drooping form the species is not nearly as elegant as with Xanthocyparis nootkatensis. C. lawsoniana was “First introduced in 1854,” according to Hillier, “when seeds were sent to P. Lawson and Son's nursery, Edinburgh.” Well, “first introduced” to Europe, because prior to that American settlers and Native Americans made use of the species. How British, though, that a native American tree species was saddled permanently with a Scottish nurseryman's name.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Silver Queen'


Nevertheless, there are a number of C. lawsoniana cultivars that are of garden merit, which we produce by grafting onto C.l. 'D.R. (disease-resistant rootstock). Those companies that produce C. lawsoniana cultivars via rooted cuttings – in America at least – are horticulturally irresponsible since most trees will eventually die from Phytophthora, so the only motive is greed, as the species is easy to root and with enough chemical fungicides they can be cranked quickly from the propagation department and into sales. I've whined about this practice ad nauseum, but just this past weekend I saw at a high-end specialty grocery store the holiday display of “live conifers.” In particular the faded-silver foliage of indoor-grown 'Silver Queen' looked dirty, especially as presented in a gaudy red plastic pot. Bah Humbug!

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Wissel's Saguaro'


Our best selling C. lawsoniana cultivar is 'Wissel's Saguaro', a blue-gray behemoth with arms that resemble the stereotypical cactus.* They look good when young, but at my nursery they can reach to about 15-20' tall (4.5-6 m) in just ten years. At least it stays relatively narrow, and so it can fit into many garden situations. But be clear, my friends, C. l. 'Wisselii' is not the same as 'Wissel's Saguaro'. 'Wisselii' originated in Holland by F. van der Wissel in 1888, an old cultivar that never really gained favor in America. 'Wissel's Saguaro' was discovered as a witch's broom on 'Wisselii' and was discovered by J.B. Decker of The Netherlands in about 1962. The “cactus” form has existed for over 50 years, then, but American growers and gardeners still consider it fairly new. Maybe its growing popularity as a landscape tree is that Buchholz and other mindful propagators are using the disease-resistant rootstock.

*The Saguaro cactus is Carnegiea gigantea.






























Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Blue Surprise' 




Second in C. lawsoniana popularity for us is 'Blue Surprise', a cultivar I first encountered in a Scottish rock garden about 30 years ago. It forms a compact pillar with intense silvery-blue foliage that dazzled me when I saw it gleaming in the sunlight, but I groaned when I learned that it was a Lawson cypress...but that was before the disease resistant rootstock was developed. In Oregon we achieve a lot of growth per year on grafted plants, and our only worry is that a wet heavy snow will cause the branches to fall apart. 'Blue Surprise' is also of Dutch origin (1968), and I like that their nurserymen often employ the universal language (English) with catchy named for their introductions.





























Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Imbricata Pendula'


Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Imbricata Pendula'


I continue to propagate C.l. 'Imbricata Pendula', a curious thread-leaf form, but unfortunately without a catchy English name. Long branchlets do indeed droop, so that accounts for the “pendula” name, while “imbricata” refers to overlaying scales on the twigs. It's tough, though, to market a conifer with a long Latin name, and I wish it could have been named more whimsically, like for a Dr. Seuss character. Hillier says it was raised from seed in New Zealand in about 1930, but not introduced until much later “as propagation is difficult.” I suppose it would be difficult to propagate from cuttings, but that's a poor excuse because most Lawsons are easy to root, so grafts of 'Imbricata Pendula' are as successful on these rootstocks as any conifer we propagate. Hillier describes it as a “small” tree, and maybe it is if on its own roots, but I have a huge grafted specimen at Flora Farm that is 35' tall at about 18 years of age; and yes, I planted it too close to the road.





























Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Filip's Golden Tears'


Both C.l. 'Filip's Tearful' and 'Filip's Golden Tears' came from Edwin Smits of Holland. The former is green and very narrow, even more so than the “weeping Alaska cedar,” Xanthocyparis nootkatensis 'Van den Akker', while the 'Filip's Golden Tears' is also very narrow, but with soft yellow foliage. The green and gold forms look the same when growing in a shaded greenhouse, and that's your/my employees' excuse for mixing them up. Honestly, I think my crew just looks at the name 'Filip's' on the label, and don't remember that one of the cultivars will be yellow if grown in the sun, and the other green. When I remind them to focus on the entire plant name, they look at me with glazed eyes and feel for certain that I expect far too much.






























Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Filifera' 




Robert Fortune
Chamaecyparis pisifera was introduced from Japan by Robert Fortune in 1861. The specific epithet means “pea-bearing” due to the tiny round cones, from pissum for “pea” and ferre for “to bear.” Oddly the genus name of Chamaecyparis is from Greek Chamai meaning “dwarf” or “low to the ground” and kyparissos meaning “cypress,” odd because both the Lawson cypress and the pisifera cypress can grow quite large, to 150' or more. C. pisifera is referred to as Sawara in Japanese, but my Japanese landscape-architect wife didn't know its meaning when first quizzed. She defended herself, however, that for identification purposes Chamaecyparis obtusa has white markings under the leaves in the shape of a “y” while the C. pisifera species has white markings in the shape of an “x.” Ok, that's useful if you're taking a dendrology exam, but certainly the word sawara is used to describe something. Accepting the challenge, wife Haruko conducted more research and now says sawara would translate to “fresh,' clean, tidy,” since the C. pisifera species displays a less ponderous canopy than the more-loved C. obtusa species. Then she assured me that Tokyo people – where she is from – would never use the sawara name, but rather the more rustic denizens of Osaka, or even Kyushu people, would come up with a name like that. I have learned from the past that I rarely get a simple, straight answer when I ask for Japanese words' meanings, but maybe that's just her with her own particular “Secrets of the Orient.”

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Baby Blue Ice'


Anyway, we don't grow many C. pisifera cultivars when once we rooted some of the golden threadbranch selections by the thousands (when we sold rooted cuttings); but nobody has asked for them in years. C.p. 'Baby Blue Ice' is still popular for us today, and I like the tight pyramidal shape seen on mature specimens. It is hardy to -30 F (USDA zone 4) and the glittery blue shows off nicely in the winter garden, especially with something lower and yellow surrounding it.































Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Harvard Gold' 




C.p. 'Harvard Gold' is a golden sawara selection which we produce (easily) from rooted cuttings, but on 100 F days in Oregon it must be sited with PM shade. I was given my start by the great – now retired – Oregon plantsman John Mitsch*, and since it was then unnamed I called it, and sold it as 'Mitsch Gold'. Eventually I got around to asking John if there was another, more valid name to use. Since his start came from someone at the Arnold Arboretum – but I don't know that story – John suggested 'Harvard Gold'. I gulped because I was initially guilty of spreading it around with a name of my own concoction, and I should have been more patient with the plant's distribution.

John Mitsch


*Don't read this paragraph if you're tired of my excessive whining and pontifications, but I find it irksome that the lightweights at the Oregon Association of Nurserymen (OAN) have passed so many years without enshrining John Mitsch into the Nurseryman's Hall of Fame. John is far too humble to care, but I do since he was as instrumental as anyone for the success of Oregon's nursery industry, including my own company, and to neglect his honor is like omitting Peter or Paul from the Gospel while including the hapless, drunken village priest.

Chamaecyparis obtusa


Ok, now to Chamaecyparis obtusa, the 'Hinoki' cypress. By now regular Flora Wonder Blog readers know that I relish word origins, that I find it the greatest hobby only after sex. Wait a second! – that sentence didn't come out as intended. Anyway, almost all professional nurserymen and home gardeners know that “hinoki' is the common word for Chamaecyparis obtusa. Hino is Japanese for “fire” and ki means “tree,” so hinoki refers to “fire tree,” but wife H is not certain why the species would translate to that. She speculates that splinters of hinoki were commonly used to begin stove fires, but she's not really sure because modern Japanese people – even though they love old customs and traditions – are now far removed from old word meanings. Often there is an old Japanese poem or story that explains the term, but today's big-city girls have no reason to know it. I make my wife uneasy with my requests for word or phrase origins, and when she doesn't know she somewhat feels that she has failed our marriage. She accuses me of loving Japan more than the Japanese (Nihonjin) do, but I can't help that either.































Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Rigid Dwarf' 



When you visit my nursery and arboretum – and I would love to tour with a group of students, whether Japanese or American – you'll discover that most species I grow are native to Japan, even if the particular cultivar is of American or European origin. To wit: Acer palmatum, Pinus parviflora, Chamaecyparis pisifera, Chamaecyparis obtusa etc. Japan is well represented in American horticulture, maybe only second to China, but both countries account for more trees in my collection than those from Europe or America. That doesn't stem solely from my love of Japan, but rather because Japanese species are those most easy to sell at my niche-nursery business.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Lemon Twist'
































Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Lemon Twist'




My hinokis were mostly acquired through the aforementioned Mitsch Nursery, and old John willingly sold me starts even though he knew that I would eventually compete with him. I bought cuttings of C. obtusa 'Torulosa' which was apparently a synonym of 'Coralliformis', a “small to medium-sized bush with densely arranged, twisted, cord-like, brown branchlets and dark green foliage,” according to Hillier. At some point Mitsch was offering 'Torulosa Dwarf' and I bought onto that too, even though it grew at the same rate as the regular 'Torulosa'. As is the wont with Chamaecyparis, my 'Torulosa Dwarf' produced a golden mutation which I propagated. It proved to be stable, i.e. the propagules have never reverted back to green, and I named the mutation 'Lemon Twist'. It features the same twisted, cord-like branchlets with numerous cockscombs, except that the foliage is lemon-yellow. It is a wonderful slow-growing conifer that thrives in full sun and I considered it – 25 years ago anyway – as one of the best plants to have come out of Buchholz Nursery. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered a look-alike in Linssen's Dutch nursery, 20 years ago, with the name 'Golden Whorl'. Yep – the same rate of growth and also with lemon-yellow cockscombs. We still produce 'Lemon Twist' but no one seems to be producing the mother tree of 'Coralliformis'/'Torulosa'/'Torulosa Dwarf' anymore.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Fernspray Gold'


An early edition of The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs lists Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Tetragona Aurea', that it was introduced from Japan in about 1870 and that it may have arisen as a sport of 'Filicoides'. Then, for the cultivar 'Fernspray Gold', Hillier stats that it is similar to 'Filicoides', and “Originally grown in New Zealand as 'Tetragona Aurea'. C, 1970.” In my opinion they are certainly similar, but I think the New Zealand introduction is actually different. In any case 'Fernspray Gold' is a more garden friendly cultivar name. I'm one of the first in America, if not the very first to acquire it when the now defunct Duncan and Davies Nursery of New Zealand sent a plant sample of it to the American nursery where I worked in the 1970's. My boss didn't care for it and allowed me to take the sample home, and within a couple of years I was propagating and selling it. I was quite proud to receive an order for it from my conifer guru, John Mitsch, the first and only time I beat him to the punch.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Filicoides Compacta'


Philipp von Siebold
Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Filicoides' was introduced by Philipp von Siebold to Germany from Japan in about 1860, implying that the Japanese were already growing selected cultivars of their native hinoki cypress. For me it was a scrappy-looking plant that was marred by dead tufts along the stem, so I eventually discontinued it. Much later in my career I saw a 'Filicoides' Compacta' in Holland which looked good to me, and so now I produce it. In the Hillier manual (2014) under 'Filicoides Compacta' we're advised to see 'Compact Fernspray' which is described as “A miniature, rather stunted form of 'Filicoides'.” It's hardly “miniature” though, as a 10-year-old can grow to 5-6' tall and is very bushy and healthy-looking, so I question the adjective “stunted.”









Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana (True)'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Gracilis'

'Nana Gracilis' grafted onto Chamaecyparis lawsoniana


I suppose Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Gracilis' is the hinoki we have produced the most, and it propagates easily by rooted cuttings or can be grafted onto Thuja occidentalis. I have seen old specimens grafted onto Chamaecyparis lawsoniana but that's not advised since the bole of the Lawson rootstock grows to enormous size and looks capable of swallowing up the dwarf hinoki. The American nursery industry is rife with careless growers who mix up C.o. 'Nana' with 'Nana Gracilis', but the former is a miniature that Hillier calls “One of the best dwarf conifers for a rock garden.” I agree and my oldest plant is only about 18 inches tall and wide after 35 years. To keep our customers (and employees) straight about not confusing it with 'Nana Gracilis', I invented the cultivar name 'Nana (True)' which does the job. By the way, a 35 year old 'Nana Gracilis' could grow to 10-12' tall if propagated from a cutting, and 15-20' tall if grafted onto Thuja.























Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Harumi'


The last hinoki I'll mention is Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Harumi'. The name can mean a number of things, but if the characters are right it means “spring beauty.” It is occasionally a given name for a Japanese girl who is born in spring, but risky because she might not grow into a beauty after all. I encountered the name in an English author's travel book, Pictures from the Water Trade in the mid 1980's, where the author was chatting with a proud old Japanese man who named his daughter Harumi. Too bad that I couldn't have met this beauty but I remembered the name. In the 1990's I discovered a variegated twig on C.o. 'Torulosa Dwarf', propagated it and named it 'Harumi'. At the time I was divorced and single but I at least had a “spring beauty” in my garden. Then – what do you know? – I met and eventually married a Japanese woman named Haruko (“spring child”). Our first born was a girl so we named her Harumi. The plant 'Harumi' was named by me at least 10 years before I had the chance to name a girl, but the good news is that my daughter (now 16) is exceedingly beautiful whereas my plant is only so-so. Heavens to Hinoki!

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