Sugi (Cryptomeria japonica) is a conifer in the cypress family (Cupressaceae), the sole member of the genus Cryptomeria. The Sugi is endemic to Japan, but so long-cultivated in China that it is thought by some to be native there. Sugi is the Japanese name for this tree, and is increasingly being used as the English name as well, replacing the old, botanically inaccurate name "Japanese Cedar" - the tree is not related to the cedars (Cedrus). Forms selected for ornament and timber production long ago in China have been described as a distinct variety Cryptomeria japonica var. sinensis (or even a distinct species, Cryptomeria fortunei), but they do not differ from the full range of variation found in the wild in Japan, and there is no definite evidence the species ever occurred wild in China.
It is a very large evergreen tree, reaching up to 70 m (230 ft) tall and 4 m (12 ft) trunk diameter, with red-brown bark which peels in vertical strips. The leaves are arranged spirally, needle-like, 0.5-1 cm long; and the seed cones globular, 1-2 cm diameter with about 20-40 scales. It is superficially similar to the related Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), from which it can be differentiated by the longer leaves (under 0.5 cm in Giant Sequoia) and smaller cones (4-6 cm in Giant Sequoia), and the harder bark on the trunk (thick, soft and spongy in Giant Sequoia).
Symbolism and uses
The Sugi is the National tree of Japan, commonly planted around temples, with many hugely impressive trees planted centuries ago. Sargent (1894; The Forest Flora of Japan) recorded the instance of a Daimyo (prince) who was too poor to donate a stone lantern at the funeral of the Shogun Ieyasu (1543-1616) at Nikko, but requested instead to be allowed to plant an avenue of Sugi, 'that future visitors might be protected from the heat of the sun'. The offer was accepted; the avenue, which still exists, is over 65 km (40 miles) long, and 'has not its equal in stately grandeur'.
It is also extensively used in forestry in Japan and China, and is widely cultivated as an ornamental tree in other temperate areas, including Britain, Europe and North America.
One very popular ornamental form is the cultivar 'Elegans', which is notable for retaining juvenile foliage throughout its life, instead of developing normal adult foliage when one year old. The right hand specimen in the box photo is of this cultivar. It makes a small, shrubby tree 5-10m tall.
The wood is scented, reddish-pink in colour, lightweight but strong, waterproof and resistant to decay. It is favoured in Japan for all types of construction work as well as interior panelling, etc.