Rather than pining and whining for a spring that’s not yet come, let’s try and appreciate those plants that provide beauty and form during winter, shall we? The ferny, soft foliage of the conifer; Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’ is gorgeous and like many Cryptomeria, it changes colour in the cold months.
Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’ is commonly known as Japanese Plume Cedar and although this frothy conifer hails from Japan (where it is known as ‘Sugi’) it isn’t a Cedar, but is a member of the cypress family, Cupressaceae. During periods of cold temperatures, the feathery foliage changes from soft green to cinnamon brown and dusty purple. Sometimes people mistakenly assume the plant’s demise, but a close inspection will reveal that the plant’s tissues are still soft and springy.
This cultivar grows at a medium rate and will achieve a mature height of around 30’. Mine is planted into a barrel to restrict its growth. Originally, I purchased it as a tiny plant (little more than a rooted cutting) that I used in a mixed winter planter for texture and colour. Having outgrown that position, its function now is to provide softness (and life) to an arid gravelly spot between our extra parking area and the neighbours.
Japanese Plume Cedar is cold-hardy to around -24C, and it prefers acid to neutral, well-drained soil. Extreme wind exposure can cause some foliage brown-off, and heavy wet snow can break limbs, but I’ve discovered (the hard way) that it can recover quite well from this sort of damage, resprouting fresh growth freely. Last winter the deer nibbled it quite severely in the dead of winter, but you can barely tell now!
I’m quite partial to Cryptomeria, there is such diversity within the genus, perhaps due to a long history of cultivation both in Japan and China. Cryptomeria japonica is a very large conifer which can reach 70m in height and there are literally dozens (at least) of small, even tiny varieties that are readily available to gardeners looking for exceptional form and colour in an evergreen plant. Cryptomeria are often used for bonsai, as they respond well to pruning, and offer enthusiasts a variety of habits and textures to sculpt into living art.
My Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’ will eventually outgrow the half oak barrel in which it now lives, and I’ll probably end up giving it away to a friend with more room than I have. Until then I’ll enjoy the seasonal colour shifts and billowy foliage of my Japanese Plume Cedar.