Japanese CleyeraCleyera japonica
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The Japanese Cleyera is an attractive evergreen shrub rarely seen in American gardens. It forms a bush or small, multi-stem tree 10 to 15 feet tall and about 10 feet wide. It grows at a moderate pace, and the smooth, glossy, dark-green leaves are very handsome, often turning dark red over the winter. In summer clusters of white fragrant flowers form at the base of the leaves, and these mature to clusters of berries that are red at first, turning black by late fall. This plant is sacred in the Shinto religion, and especially valuable as an authentic addition to an Asian-themed garden. It is also great as part of a woodland garden, perhaps growing with azaleas and camellias.
The Japanese Cleyera will grow in full sun, but it does best with some shade, even growing well in light full shade. It grows in warm zones and enjoys damp, humid summer weather. It thrives in richer, well-drained soils that are slightly acidic, and won’t tolerate much drought or very wet soil. It rarely has any pest or disease problems and it usually won’t be eaten by deer. Water regularly when young, but otherwise no trimming or special care is needed.
Japanese Cleyera is an unusual evergreen shrub that typically grows to be 10 or 15 feet tall, and up to 10 feet wide. Old mature plants could eventually reach double those dimensions when grown in good conditions. It has a dense bushy form with branches that arch out at low angles. The smooth bark is reddish-brown tending to gray with age. The most striking feature of this plant are the smooth, glossy leaves, which are 2 to 3 inches long and 1 or 2 inches wide. They are leathery and oval, tapering to a broad pointed tip, and they are an attractive dark green when mature, giving this plant lots of ‘presence’. Young leaves are a bright and attractive light green, and in winter they often turn a striking dark red. Mostly seen as a shrub, it could also be developed into a small, multi-stem tree. This plant grows at a moderate pace, adding 6 to 9 inches of new growth each year, under good growing conditions.
Flowering takes place between May and July, and the flowers are in clusters of up to 5 buds, along the branches at the point where the leaves meet the stems. The nodding flowers are white and fragrant, about ½-inch across, with 5 petals forming an open cup. Often many blooms are produced over a long period. The flowers are followed by clusters of small berries that are green, then an attractive red and finally mature to black in late fall and early winter.
Japanese Cleyera is not often seen in gardens, which is a pity, because this attractive evergreen can be grown in so many different places. It is a top-choice for any Asian-influenced garden, because it is very important in Japan, and part of the Shinto religion. It tolerates significant amounts of shade, so it could be grown on the north side of buildings, or underneath larger deciduous trees. It’s a great addition to a woodland garden or a garden with camellias and azaleas. It has a dense structure, so it brings bulk, and has good potential for screening. Growing plants that are not immediately recognizable is a great way to make a unique and interesting garden, and this plant is always attractive. It can even be grown as a houseplant in cooler zones, where it makes a rounded bush just a couple of feet tall.
Japanese Cleyera grows best in warm zones, and in warm, sheltered locations. It is hardy from zone 8, and thrives in areas with damp, humid summers and mild winters. Don’t plant in exposed positions where winter storms could damage it.
Although able to grow in full sun, Japanese Cleyera prefers partial shade, especially with protection from the strong afternoon sun. It will grow well in the dappled shade beneath deciduous trees, as long as it isn’t too dark, and tolerated bright full shade too. It prefers richer soils – prepare the planting spot well – that are also well-drained, and it does best in slightly acidic soils.
Mulch over the root-zone in spring with lime-free compost to feed your Japanese Cleyera, and to conserve moisture. Apart from watering regularly when young, and soaking deeply during dry spells, no special care is needed. Pests usually don’t attack this plant, and deer normally leave it alone too. If you see purple spots developing on the leaves, collect up fallen leaves regularly, to break the cycle of re-infection. This leafspot disease can cause leaves to fall, but it isn’t very serious. Pruning and trimming are not normally needed – this plant has an attractive natural habit.
Japanese Cleyera, Cleyera japonica, grows wild from northern India through western and southern China and in Japan and Taiwan. It is found in mountain forests growing beneath larger trees. In Japan it is called sakaki (榊), which means ‘tree of the spirits’. It is sacred in the Shinto religion, along with Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) and Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica). Branches decorated with paper streamers are used as offerings to the gods. In Japan it is often seen growing in parks, public gardens, temples and shrines.
It took a lot of effort to track down these great young plants of Japanese Cleyera, but we are happy we did, because we love being able to offer you unusual and worthwhile garden plants. We don’t have a large stock of Japanese Cleyera, and we don’t know when we might find some again, so order now – sacred trees aren’t available every day.