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What Is Russian Cypress?

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  • Written By: Britt Archer
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2016
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Russian cypress, a small shrub, is also known as Russian arborvitae and Siberian cypress. It grows slowly, reaching a mature width of about 6 feet (1.82 meters) and a height of about 1 foot (0.30 meters). In some areas under prime conditions, it can reach 12 feet (3.65 meters) wide and 2 feet (0.60 meters) high. The shrub is prized more for its foliage than for its flowers or fruit. The foliage features colors that change according to the various seasons, appearing dark green in summer months and a lighter green in spring. Its winter foliage is bronze and brown, and not as highly valued as its appearance in warmer months.

In landscaping, the Russian cypress is sometimes chosen as a groundcover instead of the juniper because it is less susceptible to blight. Landscapers also make use of the Russian cypress in shady areas because it does not suffer in partially shady areas as some other types of shrubs do. Another plus is its ability to withstand extreme cold. The foliage’s lacy texture and the plant’s tendency to grow densely, even in windy areas, also make the shrub an attractive choice. The shrub is not particular about the type of soil it grows in, but it does best in soil that drains well.

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The Russian cypress, known also as Microbiota decussata, is at times snubbed by some gardeners who do not enjoy its brownish foliage in the colder months, while other homeowners appreciate the variety of the brown-to-burgundy winter foliage. Homeowners who give the shrub a chance will enjoy the easy growth habit and hardiness, especially its ability to withstand disease and insects. The colors, too, including its winter brown, are a nice contrast to conifers and taller decorative grasses. Modern botanists discovered this shrub in the 1920s, but its popularity did not spread beyond its native Siberia until the 1970s.

The Russian cypress can be used in a variety of ways, but primarily as attractive groundcovers. They also look attractive if their branches are left to peek over an embankment or short wall. Homeowners who live near the ocean can make use of this plant because it is not only resistant to wind, but it also withstands salt fairly well. Homeowners who live along plains and in areas prone to drought will also fare well by choosing the Russian cypress because it is able to withstand a certain amount of drought.

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