Bloom where you are planted
February 2022
Here you will find a cornucopia of beauty and knowledge from the Conservancy and some friends featuring trees, gardening, bugs, our green watershed, stormwater management, and more. We wish to help you “Bloom Where You Are Planted.”
February – Chamaecyparis pisifera – Sawara Falsecypress
by Paul W. Meyer, Conservancy Board Member and
Morris Arboretum’s Retired F. Otto Haas Executive Director
Sawara Falsecypress
The Sawara falsecypress is perhaps the most unknown but common conifers growing widely in Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy and the surrounding older northwest suburbs. I believe it is little known because its beauty is subtle, with olive green foliage and somewhat irregular form at maturity. With no showy flowers or fall color, at no time does its beauty jump out and demand attention like a magnolia or dogwood. Hence, it tends to recede into the background.
The genus Chamaecyparis is in the Cypress Family (Cupressaceae), related to bald cypress, junipers and arborvitae. This species is from central and southern Japan and was first introduced into the U.S. in 1861. By the early 20th century, it was widely available from nurseries in our region. In Japan it is an immense forest tree, growing to be over 150 feet tall and can live for many hundreds of years. Here in Chestnut Hill, I suspect that landscapers in the early 1900s saw small, handsome, pyramidal trees in the nursery and had no idea that these were truly tall, forest trees. Hence, we today see them growing to 60-70 feet on older properties as foundation plantings and hedges, used the way small clipped yew trees might be planted today. Though not always growing in an ideal location for such a big tree, many are now over a century old. They have survived and thrived and contribute significantly to the sense of place of Chestnut Hill.
In its native land Sawara falsecypress is a valued forestry species. Its rot resistant, lemon-scented wood used for furniture, construction, boxes, coffins and musical instruments.
The Sawara falsecypress is remarkably variable. Today, most sawara falsecypress available in nurseries are cultivars, selected for outstanding texture, foliage color and slower growth rate. Common selections include ‘Boulevard’ with silvery blue needle-like foliage, ‘Filifera’ with thread-like weeping branchlets, and a golden threadleaf form – ‘Filifera Aurea’.
Perhaps the oldest is C. pisifera ‘Squarosa’. This remarkable form maintains its distinctive juvenile needle lite leaves into maturity. Its needles are silvery blue with a soft texture. These are just a sampling of the scores of cultivars cultivated throughout the world.
Sawara falsecypress is well-adapted to our climate, most moist, well-drained soils and is relatively pest free. It will grow in full sun or light shade.
Look around your neighborhood, especially around properties developed in the early 20th century and try to find one. Then, take time to admire its beautiful, shredding reddish bark and picturesque branch habit. Before long, I think you will be surprised how many fine old specimens of sawara falsecypress you will find growing throughout our community!
See the full gallery of images HERE.
Photos by Paul W. Meyer
Top: Sawara falsecypress growing in a residential garden in west Chestnut Hill.
Second: A fine specimen of Sawara falsecypress growing at Chestnut Hill College
Third: Sawara falsecypress at the Morris Arboretum. This grove formed naturally over the years as lower branched touched the ground, formed roots and started a new tree. The original tree was planted by the Morrises before 1932.
Fourth: Interior view of the Morris Arboretum specimen showing layered branches developing into mature trees
Fifth: Foliage and ripened cones of Chamaecyparis pisifera.
Sixth: Shredding, reddish bark of mature Chamaecyparis pisifera.
See the entire gallery of images for this month’s article at our Tree of the Month page! Visit our History at Home page for more information.
Chestnut Hill Conservancy is regularly highlighting special trees in our community, both large and small, as well as common and obscure. In doing so, we hope to promote an appreciation of our arbor legacy and foster a culture of stewardship and renewal of this invaluable resource.
February – Identifying Trees by BARK
by Emilie Lapham, Conservancy Board Member, avid gardener, botanical artist, and active participant in several noted local and national garden organizations
In the winter landscape, trees are a strong visual focal point. In the natural landscape of wintertime in Pennsylvania, the foliage on most of the trees is gone and the herbaceous plants have gone dormant. The less green landscape allows us to better appreciate the texture and and shapes of trees, especially the tree’s bark. Perhaps the most striking trees around Philadelphia in the winter are the London Planetree, a hybrid of the American Sycamore and the Oriental Planetree. Many of us enjoy winter walks in the neighborhood and in the wilder landscape. It is a good season to learn more about trees through their bark. You can judge a tree by its cover.
The outer bark is the layer we see and it protects the tree from the outside world. Bark provides insulation from hot or cold extremes, helps keep moisture in or out according to conditions and wards off disease and insects. This outside layer is renewed from within continuously by the inner layers. The inner bark, “phloem” is the circulation system passing food to the rest of the tree. A tree’s layers are: outer bark, inner bark, the cambium cell layer, sapwood and heartwood.
To write this article I walked around the neighborhood, visited the Wissahickon, Carpenter’s Woods and the Morris Arboretum. For research I visited many web sites and a few books. The most useful resource: “Philadelphia Trees”, a field guide to the city’s trees and the surrounding area. Written by Paul Meyer, Catrioana Bull Briger, and Edward Barnard. This book has a astonishing amount of information about trees and shows the bark of each tree.
Try to identify some trees by bark on your next walk, but also look at shape and clues, such as leaves and pods dropped at the base of the tree. Notice in the woods how trees often grow in colonies. Oak is the dominant tree in Pennsylvania but just 100 years ago it was Chestnut. Ned Barnard is shown below, proudly leaning on a tree found in Carpenter’s woods – an American Chestnut! Chestnut Hill!
Bark can be broken into seven categories. As trees grow and mature, they can change in texture or category, even on different portions of the same tree.
Photos by Emilie Lapham
Top: Smooth unbroken, American Beech
Second: Lenticels, Black Birch
Third: Peeling horizontally, Paper Maple
Fourth: Vertical cracks or seams, Shag Bark Hickory
Fifth: Broken into vertical strips intersecting, White Ash
Sixth: Broken into scales and plates, White Oak
Seventh: Ridges and furrows, Red Oak
Ask the Experts Program
A free program to the community, Ask the Experts addresses a featured topic by an expert on prevalent issues relating to historic home and landscape care. Ask questions; get solutions! Organized by the Chestnut Hill Conservancy and co-sponsored by the Chestnut Hill Community Association.
Garden Friends & Foes: Integrated Pest Management for your Garden Challenges
Wednesday, March 16, 2022 at 7pm
As gardening season draws near, landscape designer Christopher Sohnly will discuss means of managing your home garden in harmony with nature. His firm Spruce Hollow, LLC, is a full-service landscape design company in Mt. Airy providing garden design, installation, and maintenance.
Free, registration required to receive zoom link on the day of the event.
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  • March 16 – Ask the Experts virtual Program “Garden Friends & Foes” 6:00pm. Email HERE for a Zoom link to attend
  • April 6 – “Living among Landmarks: The Olmsted Legacy in Chestnut Hill. A Conversation and Exhibit” IN PERSON! Springside Chestnut Hill Academy Middle School, 8000 Cherokee Street. Tickets: $10 members/$20 non-members. Learn more, and buy tickets HERE.
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Chestnut Hill Conservancy | 8708 Germantown AvenuePhiladelphia, PA 19118