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Taiwania cryptomerioides

Taiwania cryptomerioides
Taiwania cryptomerioides

Today's photographs and entry are courtesy of Douglas Justice, the garden's Curator of Collections. – Daniel

Taiwania, or coffin-tree, is currently recognized by most authorities as consisting of a single species, which ranges from SW China to Myanmar (Burma) and Taiwan. According to the entry on Wikipedia for Taiwania, it is the tallest species in Asia, at 80m.

UBC Botanical Garden has three wild collections of Taiwania cryptomerioides, all derived from sites in Taiwan: Tahsuehshan, 2200m (accession pictured), Tachien, 2200m, and Hsiuluan, ~ 2000 m (foliage detail accession pictured). Little seed is available outside of Taiwan, as the species is rare and now protected in China. Despite the relatively low elevation and southerly provenance of this species in Taiwan, our plants appear to be reasonably hardy in the David C. Lam Asian Garden (USDA Zone 8), having never suffered frost damage in more than 20 years. Our taiwanias are located in a variety of environments, in forest under the shade of mature Alnus rubra, Acer macrophyllum, Abies grandis, Thuja plicata and Tsuga heterophylla, and in the open. Some plants receive irrigation (our thin soils and dry summers necessitate supplemental irrigation for many ornamentals), but most have to fend for themselves. A few of the plants in the open display yellowing foliage, but all plants are growing strongly and many are strikingly beautiful, displaying the typical drooping branch tips, blue-green curtain-like foliage and narrow conical habit.

None of our plants has started coning (as outlined in our interpretive sign), although there was a report in 2006 of what could have been male cones in the upper branches of one of our oldest trees. To our knowledge, no cultivated Taiwania in a North American or European botanical garden has ever produced a seed cone. There is a point to wanting our taiwanias to produce seed cones, beyond having bragging rights. Upon reaching reproductive maturity, the leaves change from awl-shaped (similar to Cryptomeria japonica) to smaller, more appressed and scale-like (see illustration of a branch with cones via conifers.org). This is example of foliar dimorphism due to heterochrony. More significant (from a botanical point of view) is that Taiwania appears to have “features crucial to the understanding of the evolution of the cupressaceous cone, characteristic of the families Cupressaceae and Taxodiaceae, and provide further evidence for the need to merge these families”. See Farjon and Garcia's Cone and ovule development in Cunninghamia and Taiwania (Cupressaceae sensu lato) and its significance for conifer evolution and Schulz and Stützel's Evolution of taxodiaceous Cupressaceae (Coniferopsida).


Can anyone tell me why/where it got the nickname, "coffin-tree"?

It's light-weight wood is used in making coffins in Taiwan, Deb.

Is this the same plant as the Norfolk Island pine? From the picture it looks just about the same.

No, that's Araucaria heterophylla.

Taiwania cryptomerioides - Z9 - RHS Index of Garden Plants, Griffiths
Taiwania cryptomerioides - requires a sheltered site to succeed - Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs, 2003
Taiwania tie-wahn-ee-a - from Taiwan. cryptomerioides krip-to-me-ree-oi-deez Like Cryptomeria Dictionary of Plant Names, Coombes

What an exquisite tree! The blue color and the way the branchlets drape is just lovely.

By 2006 the Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle (USDA 8) was growing 9 specimens, the biggest of these measuring 41 1/2 ft. (>12 m.) by 2 ft. 11 in.


Graceful, lovely. It reminds of drawings I've seen of one of the first trees, Archeopteris.

"To our knowledge, no cultivated Taiwania in a North American or European botanical garden has ever produced a seed cone"

I've not heard of any, either. And that unfortunately includes trees at least twice as old as yours, so you'll likely have a very long wait yet.

where can i buy this fantastic tree.

You just want to be careful when you prune it, if you prune it, because the sap is highly allergenic. it is still a lovely tree and is worth planting.

There is in germany a Taiwania that had already produced cones and seed.(Botanical Garden Düsseldorf)

Returned from a trip to Taiwan, where the tree is a native (natch). It's on the IUCN red list as threatened and there's a good description of the current status on Wikipedia. Never all that abundant, it's probably lost half its distribution over the last 500 years. In Myanmar where illegal logging is the order of the day, it's probably been hammered into near disappearance given how valuable the wood is. This is the largest forest tree in east Asia and it can grow to 250'+ in height. The color and the smell are both incredibly seductive.

It's now protected in Taiwan after extensive cutting by the Japanese in the middle part of the last century. We saw both ends of that, first with a visit to Xitou (also Chitou, Sitou, Hsitou), a forest recreation area with an experimental forest at its heart, and - afterwards - with a visit to a Japanese built temple in Taipei.

If you can find your way there, I'd strongly recommend a visit to Xitou if you have any interest in the outstanding flora of Taiwan. The island straddles the Tropic of Cancer and it has an enormous mountain block down the center. That backbone forms a near continous wall from North to South. There's also a new mountain range rising to the extreme Southeast, anoter wall bordering a rift valley with the Central mountains to the West. It's as dramatic as it sounds.

I mention this to give you a flavor for the botanical elements that come together. The island was connected to the mainland as recently as 6,000 years ago. That means it has an extensive list of forest genera closely related to the mother forest for all our temperate woodlans, the one in southern China. But it also has strong tropical elements that encroach into those temperate forests. So, you'll have forests of giant bamboo encroaching into exquisite stands of Taiwania, and (experimental) stands of Cryptomeria Japonica, Japanese cedar. All of that is punctuated with 15' specimens of Datura and giant tree ferns towering 40' above your head.

Later during our trip we visited one of the Buddhist temples the Japanese built in the 1920's, just off one of the main stops of the Taipei MRT - the light rail system that traverses the city. It sits quietly inside a walled monastery away from the bustle of city streets. After 90+ years the smell of that wood - from which the temple is entirely constructed - is nothing short of intoxicating.

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