A common companion of the Japanese cedar, Cryptomeria japonica, is the famous Japanese hinoki, Chamaecyparis obtusa. Hinoki is a smaller tree, however in ancient times massive ones existed – alas those forests of old are long gone. Nevertheless, this tree has a special place in Japanese culture, revered mostly for its wood, but also for the fragrant essential oils found throughout its tissues.
Chamaecyparis obtusa a massive evergreen coniferous tree reaching 35 meters in height, and with a trunk up to a meter in diameter. The bark is reddish brown to silvery and grows in long strips. In young trees these can flake off in thin strips, but older trees have more compact bark generally, and thicker in substance.
The branches grow in a whorl up the trunk and tend to hang down a bit. Young trees are cylindrical, having broad and rounded crowns with old trees having more irregular branching and more pendulous branches. Older specimens can have branch-less trunks for the first several meters, especially in low light conditions such as plantation forests.
The leaves are dark green to blue-green, scale-like in appearance and blunt at their tips. They grow on branchlets that are spreading, fan-like, and tend to be in a relatively flat plane. These branchlets break off intact when they fall rather than falling apart on the tree. The pollen cones and seed cones are born separately, but on the same tree (monoecious habit). The red-brown pollen cones grow singly on the outermost twigs and are roughly conical shaped and are only 3-5 mm long each. The seed cones start out growing bright green and eventually turn a rich brown. They are nearly perfectly round and are about 2 cm across.
This common conifer is found in southern Japan from western Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. The variety formosana is reported from Taiwan and sometimes is considered a separate species, C. taiwanensis. Both varieties are very rare in the wild with just a few remnant populations. While hinoki prefers moist woodlands, it also can be found on exposed ridge-lines, from 0-1000+ meters elevation. Trees can be in mixed stands with other conifers or most often with broad leaf trees, both deciduous and evergreen.
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