Conifers - Cupressaceae
Scientific name: Juniperus communis
Shape: variable shrub or small tree, up to 4 m high
Foliage: evergreen leaves in whorls of three, needle-like with sharp point, up to 1.5 cm long
Female cone: appears as green ‘berry’ ripening to black with waxy bloom, with three minute points at top indicating the scales forming the cone
Origin: throughout Europe, northern Asia, North America. One of only three British native conifers
Remark: the characteristically flavoured ‘berries’ are used in cookery and to flavour gin.
Scientific name: Taxodium distichum
Shape: broadly conical to 40 m high, buttressed at base
Foliage: deciduous soft feathery foliage which becomes russet brown in autumn
Female cone: purplish rounded cone to 3 cm across
Origin: south-eastern North America
Remark: in damp ground, this tree produces breathing roots (pneumatophores) - short upright knobbly structures around its base - which act like snorkels taking up air and transporting it to the true roots.
Scientific name: Metasequoia glyptostroboides
Shape: narrowly conical to 40 m with buttressed trunk base
Foliage: deciduous; soft flattened leaves to 2.5 cm long, becoming yellow, pink or red in autumn
Female cone: pendulous rounded cone composed of 20-30 woody scales, to 2.5 cm across
Origin: South-west China
Remark: four other species of Metasequoia are known only as fossils and this species was also believed to be extinct until 1941 when a living specimen was discovered in Central China.
Giant sequoia, Wellingtonia
Scientific name: Sequoiadendron giganteum
Shape: narrowly conical to 80 m in height; trunk has buttressed base and may be nearly 25 m in circumference above buttresses
Foliage: evergreen; small scale-like leaves clothing shoot, deep-blue green in colour
Female cone: pendulous green barrel-shaped cone to 7.5 cm ripens to brown and often persists on tree
Origin: California, USA
Remark: when it was discovered, the tree was considered so spectacular that it deserved the name of an important personality; in England it was named after the great general Wellington, but in the USA it was named after President Washington. Its scientific name refers to the native American chief, Sequoia.
Scientific name: Cryptomeria japonica
Shape: broadly conical to 30 m
Foliage: evergreen; slender dagger-shaped leaves to 1.5 cm, curved forward along shoots
Female cone: rounded brown cone 2 cm across with 2-3 slender points at tip; seeds shed in first year but cone remains on tree
Remark: this is just one of the woods available in the timber trade under the name cedar - others include western red cedar (Thuja plicata) and Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica). It is one of Japan’s sacred trees and its timber is used in the structure of the Japanese gateway here at Kew.
Scientific name: Chamaecyparis lawsoniana
Shape: narrowly conical tree up to 50 m high with nodding main shoot
Foliage: evergreen; four rows of scale-like leaves borne in flattened sprays; white X-shaped marks where leaves meet beneath shoots
Female cone: rounded cone up to 8 mm across, with 8 scales
Origin: California and Oregon, USA
Remark: this is the most popular garden conifer in Britain; there are over 200 different cultivars of Lawson cypress available on the horticultural market.
Western red cedar
Scientific name: Thuja plicata
Shape: narrowly conical to 50 m, branches often to ground level
Foliage: evergreen; very small scale-like leaves glossy green above with white markings beneath, arranged in flattened aromatic sprays
Female cone: upright ovoid cone to 1.5 cm, yellow green ripening to brown
Origin: north-western North America
Remark: this tree was commonly used by native North Americans to make canoes, hence its alternative name canoe cedar. They also wove fibre from the inner bark into hats, baskets and mats.