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Hinoki Cypress

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Image of young dwarf Hinoki cypress.

Image of young Slender Hinoki cypress.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Hinoki Cypress:

Plant taxonomy classifies Hinoki cypress as Chamaecyparis obtusa. 'Gracilis' is the name of the cultivar with which I deal here, the common name for which is "Slender Hinoki cypress." The Slender cultivar is not a full dwarf Hinoki cypress (see below), but is compact enough for most landscaping needs. Hinokis are actually a type of false cypress, as indicated by their genus name, Chamaecyparis.

Plant Type:

Slender Hinoki cypress plants are classified as evergreen conifer trees.

Characteristics of Slender Hinoki Cypress:

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis' trees are intermediate-sized or "semi-dwarf" Hinoki cypresses, being more compact (about 15 feet tall at maturity, and about 5 feet wide) than the species trees (which reach more than 50 feet in height) but not as short as 'Nana Gracilis,' the full dwarf (9 feet tall at maturity). The flattish sprays of scale-like needles will remind some of arborvitae, but the sprays of Hinoki cypress trees curl down slightly. Adding further charm to a mature plant is its nodding top and arching branches, which also droop at their tips.

Planting Zones for Slender Hinoki Cypress:

Indigenous to Japan, Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis' can be grown in zones 5-8.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Hinoki Cypress Trees:

Grow in full sun and in a well-drained soil. Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis' isn't fussy when it comes to soil pH, but you should add humus to the soil to provide nutrients.

Uses in Landscaping, Tips:

Use a pair of slender Hinoki cypress in a symmetrical planting, as you would other evergreens popular for foundation plantings, such as dwarf Alberta spruce and columnar junipers. It can serve as a specimen plant in a Japanese garden.

Do not plant under anything that sheds small leaves. As the leaves fall, they will get trapped in the splayed foliage of Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis'. You will probably want to clean out this debris, adding to what landscaping chores you already have.

Pruning Hinoki Cypress Trees:

You can prune (or simply pinch out, using your fingers) new growth to shape Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis' and make it less susceptible to damage from snow and ice, but never make pruning cuts into the older branches -- they won't generate any new growth.

Outstanding Feature of Hinoki Cypress Trees:

Although not a weeping tree, the "droopy" appearance of a mature Hinoki cypress (in its foliage sprays, branch tips and top) is certainly its outstanding feature, giving the trees a soft appearance. On young plants, the branches appear to twist and turn every which way!

Slender Hinoki Cypress Trees vs. 'Nana Gracilis,' The True Dwarf:

You may scoff at the classification of a tree that will eventually reach 15 feet as "semi-dwarf"; but the fact is that Slender Hinoki cypress trees are extremely slow growers. This means that, if you buy small, for many years you'll enjoy a tree that fits very reasonably within a small space. But if you're planning for the long-term and have very strict space requirement, buy 'Nana Gracilis' Hinoki cypress, instead. 'Nana Gracilis' is the true dwarf. But even this true dwarf Hinoki cypress will reach 9 feet at maturity.

Origin of the Scientific Name for Slender and Dwarf Hinoki Cypress:

Slender Hinoki cypress bears the scientific name of Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis'; for the true dwarf Hinoki cypress, it's Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Gracilis.' Here's how those names break down, so that you can remember them better:

  • Chamaecyparis means "false cypress."
  • Obtusa means blunt, referring, I assume, to the appearance and feel of the needles.
  • Gracilis is Latin for "slender."
  • Nana is Latin for "dwarf."

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