The “Black Dragon” Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica “Black Dragon”) is a cultivar of the Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica). It gets its name from its dark needle-like foliage, and is prized by North American gardeners for the color and texture it adds to the landscape. While it is a smaller cultivar of its parent, the Japanese cedar, the two share many characteristics and cultural requirements.
The “Black Dragon” Japanese cedar produces needle-like foliage and brings color and interest to the landscape from early spring onward with its yellow to light-green new growth that matures to stiff, deep black-green needle-like foliage in summer. The trunk of the “Black Dragon” Japanese cedar is covered by thick bark. This red-brown bark is one of its most appealing features, because as it ages this bark peels away in vertical strips, revealing pleasantly scented wood that is prized in the construction industry for its strength and water resistance.
Hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9, the "Black Dragon" Japanese cedar prefers locations where it receives full sunlight, although it will tolerate partial shade. Once it has established, “Black Dragon” Japanese cedar needs only occasional watering when the soil has dried to the touch. It does best in fast-draining, acidic soils. When planting this tree, choose a shaded location to protect it from strong winds that can cause the foliage to dry out.
In the landscape, the “Black Dragon” Japanese cedar grows to between 6 and 7 feet tall, with a spread of 4 to 6 feet wide, although it can reach heights of 10 feet in ideal growing conditions. This conifer grows slowly, taking on a dense, pyramidal shape. The parent species of this tree, Japanese cedar, grows more rapidly under ideal conditions, and can reach heights of 25 feet in as little as 10 years.
Although its common name leads you to believe it is a cedar tree (Cedrus spp.), “Black Dragon” Japanese cedar is party of the cypress (Cupressaceae) family, while cedars are part of the Pinaceae family. There is only one species in the genus Cryptomeria, which is the Japanese cedar, but there are several dwarf cultivars grown from this parent plant in cultivation. Cryptomeria is one of only 10 genera that were once in the ancient plant family, Taxodiaceae, which also includes California redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), which is hardy to USDA plant hardiness zones 7 through 10a, giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), which is hardy to zones 6 through 8, and bald cypress (Taxodium distichus), which is hardy to zones 4 through 9. However, because of their similar characteristics, botanists have since combined this ancient plant family with the Cupressaceae family.
Japanese cedar and its cultivars have been used as ornamental plants in Japanese landscapes for centuries, and they also make suitable bonsai plants. In North American landscapes, the “Black Dragon” Japanese cedar grows well in large containers on decks and patios, and it makes an attractive specimen plant as well, because its dark foliage and upright growth habit makes it stand out. “Black Dragon” Japanese cedar can also be included in mass plantings or as a border plant along driveways and garden paths.