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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.


Chamaecyparis lawsoniana - Lawson cypress


The endangered Lawson cypress occurs naturally only in the valleys of the Klamath Mountains on the borders of Oregon and California. It is a heavyweight among trees, as it can grow to 70 metres tall and 4 metres in diameter. The oldest living specimen is said to be over 1800 years old. The species is now threatened by a fungus, Phytophtora lateralis, which has apparently spread through human agency into the tree’s last outposts. It has no resistance to this fungus, which spreads through the roots, and the infected tree slowly dies.

The Lawson cypress was first brought to Europe in 1854, being named after the Scottish Lawson & Son nursery. It soon proved incredibly variable: from a single seed batch seedlings might be obtained showing great variations in habit and colour. In western Europe the Lawson cypress varieties are among the most popular of garden conifers.

Although as a rule the species has not done well in Finland, there are happy exceptions. At Mustila, it has been grown since the early years of the Arboretum in a range of forms and varieties, with varying success. Even the hardiest have suffered damage above the snow line in the severest winters.


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