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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - May 09, 2007

From: Raleigh, NC
Region: Southeast
Topic: General Botany, Non-Natives, Plant Identification
Title: Identification of Cryptomeria japonica for homeowners association
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Good morning. We are wondering if Cryptomeria japonica trees can fit under the term "pine like". We used the term pine like when asking for our home owners associations approval and we put in a Cryptomeria japonica. When we were describing the trees we just wanted them to get an idea or a visual that it would be green all year and not lose its leaves. They now want us to take them out, which we find ridiculous to just kill trees because we didn't use the scientific name. They approved the trees under the vague term of pine like so we need to know if somehow these cypress trees as they are calling them can be considered pine like? Any information will be helpful. Thanks for your time,

ANSWER:

Cryptomeria japonica, Japanese cedar, an Asian native, is a member of the Family Cupressaceae (Cypress Family). [Until a recent revision, it was in another family, Family Taxodiaceae which incorporated into Family Cupressaceae.] Other members of the family are the Taxodium distichum (bald cypress), Sequoiadendron giganteum (giant sequoia), Sequoia sempervirens (redwood), Juniperus virginiana (eastern redcedar), Juniperus ashei (Ashe's juniper), and Cupressus nootkatensis (Alaska cedar). Pines, such as Pinus ponderosa (ponderosa pine); firs, such as Abies balsamea (balsam fir); larches, such as Larix laricina (tamarack) and spruces, such as Picea sitchensis (Sitka spruce), are members of the Family Pinaceae (Pine Family). Both the Cupressaceae and the Pinaceae are in the Order Pinales which also has four other families.

The taxonomy is hierarchical. For instance, for Cryptomeria japonica it would look like this:

Kingdom: Plantae

Division: Coniferophyta,

Class: Pinopsida

Order: Pinales

Family: Cupressaceae

Genus: Cryptomeria

Species: japonica

 

Pinus ponderosa would look like this:

Kingdom: Plantae

Division: Coniferophyta,

Class: Pinopsida

Order: Pinales

Family: Pinaceae

Genus: Pinus

Species: ponderosa

So, Cryptomeria japonica is in the same Kingdom, Division, Class and Order as the pines, but it is in a different Family, Genus and Species. C. japonica is pine-like in that it is evergreen and reproduces from seeds carried in cones. They are different from pines in that they have scale-like leaves; whereas pines have needle-like leaves. Since you are in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 7 in Raleigh, North Carolina, your tree may turn brown or purple in the wintertime, rather than stay completely green.

So, the short answer to your question is that your C. japonica isn't a pine but it is closely related to pines. It is certainly more "pine-like" than it is "oak-like" or "elm-like".

 

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