Japanese Red Cedar identification

The Japanese Red Cedar Cryptomeria japonica, a conifer native to China and Japan, is not a ‘true’ cedar. It gets its name from having wood that smells similar to the ‘true’ cedars – Cedar of Lebanon, Deodar and Atlas Cedar – but, in fact, its closest relative is the Giant Sequoia. It is the national tree of Japan where it is known as the ‘Sugi’. It was introduced to Britain in 1861 and is commonly planted in large gardens where it can reach 40m in height. Japanese Red Cedar identification – long, scale-like hanging leaves, abundant small cones, each cone scale with hooks, red bark.

The Japanese Red Cedar was originally grouped in a large primitive family (Taxodiaceae) which included the Dawn Redwood, the Coast Redwood and the Giant Sequoia. They are all relics from a period 100 million years ago when they were widespread. They now have a very restricted natural distribution. The Dawn Redwood is only found in central China, the Japanese Red Cedar in Japan and China and the other two in California. Modern taxonomic studies suggest that rather than being grouped in the Taxodiaceae family they should be grouped with the Swamp Cypresses.

Japanese Red Cedar tree

Mature Japanese Red Cedar

Japanese Red Cedar leaves

Shoots fan out into branchlets

Japanese Red Cedar leaves

The long scale-like leaves curve out and down from the hanging shoot. They are similar to the leaves of the Giant Sequoia but are longer and curve outwards more.

Japanese Red Cedar bark

The bark is red-brown with strips that peel off.

Japanese Red Cedar pollen cones

Male pollen cones in October. They shed pollen in February

Japanese Red Cedar seed cones

New seed cones are green in October. They ripen and turn brown in a year.

Japanese Red Cedar seed cone

Close-up of a ripe cone, open after shedding seeds. Each cone has about 20 seed scales and on each scale there are 5 hooks.

Japanese Red Cedar old seed cones

Cones on some trees are abundant. These cones have shed seeds but will stay on the tree though the following year. Photo taken in October.