And if there’s ONE tree you must see at Fota…

And if there’s ONE tree you must see at Fota…

Celebrating National Tree Week, March 5th – 12th. Part 5

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Spiralis’, Japan. 1852

If there’s one tree you must see at FOTA it’s rhe Cryptomeria  japonica ‘Spiralis’. This striking evergreen rises in clumps of bright green cloud-like clusters, building on top of each other.  Not surprisingly it’s the national tree of Japan, where it is regularly planted at temples and shrines. Here in Fota, there’s a well-worn path to a low gap at the base of the tree. If you crouch down and enter you can look up at a cathedral-like canopy and admire the rich, red, fragrant bark. Due to its tight, spiraling needles, it has the rather irreverent nickname of ‘granny’s ringlets’. 


Inside the  Fota Cryptomeria japonica ‘Spiralis’

‘Spiralis’ is a slow-growing cultivar that may typically grow to 6-8ft over the first 10 years. But it can  mature to as much as 30-40′ tall over 50 years. Its soft needles twist spirally around the branches in ringlets, hence the nickname. It’s also called a Japanese cedar or ‘sugi’ but it is actually not related to the true cedar ‘Cedrus’. In Japan and China it grows in forests where a single tree might grow to 150 ft with a trunk of 8 ft in diameter.  It’s thought to have been brought to Europe during the 1800’s, when plant collecting was at its height. But it’s difficult to find an exact date and various sources differ greatly. One source states that this tree was planted at Fota in 1852, “ten years after its introduction”. 


The foliage is swirling and slightly pendulous.


Spiralis’ foliage

 It’s soft to the touch and moves gracefully in the wind. It produces small, spherical 1″ cones.  The flowers are well hidden and this accounts for the name, which comes from the Greek ‘krypto’ meaning hidden and ‘meris’ meaning parts. 



Bark of Cryptomeria japonica at Fota

Natural forests of this species are rare now and it is mostly planted specifically for harvesting.  In Yakushima where natural forests still exist, it is a protected species.The timber is regarded as valuable in Japan because of the size of the tree and the wood’s durability.


The pale green colour of this elegant tree is a lovely, graceful addition to the Fota Arboretum. Its unusual shape and imposing height make it stand out among the other trees nearby. Its said to be the tallest specimen in Europe and this alone makes it worth a visit.

The first blog of this 5 part series celebrating Irish National Tree Week, 2017, spoke at length about EH “Chinese” Wilson (Handkerchief Tree) and it seems only fitting to give him the last word on the species Cryptomeria japonica. In 1916 while travelling in Japan he wrote: “The Cryptomeria, or Sugi as it as called in Japan, is the noblest of the Japanese conifers and many famous places in Japan owe much of their charm to stately avenues and groves of this impressive tree. There is a solemnity and a dignity about it, with its perfectly straight trunk towering heavenward and topped with a conical dark green crown, as befits a tree used for enshrouding temples, shrines and sacred places generally. The famous and well-known avenues at Nikko, said to be the humble gift of a Daimyo poor in worldly goods, is the most magnificent of all the monuments raised to the memory of the first Shogun”. 


Date of planting at Fota: