Evergreen conical or occasionally columnar tree or shrub to about 30 m tall in nature; in cultivation rarely attaining 10 m and sometimes shrubby. Trunk often divided near the base. Bark reddish-brown and grey in old trees, fissured, peeling in papery sheets. Branches more or less whorled, bending downwards except at the ends, in old specimens arching to the ground and taking root. Foliage sprays held horizontally, tough, flattened. Scale leaves 3-5 mm long, thick and leathery, shining dark green above, both lateral and facial leaves with bright white bands below. Crushed foliage smells of turpentine. Cones of both sexes occur on the same plant. Male cones 2-3 mm long, black and inconspicuous. Female cones 8-12 mm long, globose, blue-grey at first becoming grey-brown when mature; scales mostly 8-10, thick, wedge-shaped, leathery to woody, the tip pointed and often hooked. Seeds 3-5 on the fertile scales, narrow, 2-winged.
Grows naturally in moist forest. Tolerates extremely alkaline soils.
var. dolabrata The most widely grown variety in cultivation, with lateral leaves incurved and with hooded tips. Cones ovoid with the tips of the scales thickened into a ridge across the top.
NSW: Sydney (Royal Bot. Gds); Mt Tomah (Bot. Gds); Mt Wilson ('Yengo'). VIC: Dandenongs (Mt Dandenong Arboretum); Emerald Lake (above car park); Mt Macedon ('Alton', 'Greystanes'); Melbourne (Royal Bot. Gds, conifer border &bed near perennial border); Narbething ('St Fillans', 14.5 m tall in 1994).
var. hondai Makino Branchlets more dense, leaves smaller than in var. dolabrata also blunt and without incurving tips. Cones round with the scales not thickened at the tip but with only a narrow ridge.
Source: (1995). Cupressaceae. In: . Horticultural Flora of South-eastern Australia. Volume 1, Ferns, conifers & their allies. The identification of garden and cultivated plants. University of New South Wales Press.
Dwarf with golden variegation. Name possibly illegitimate, origin unknown, not Yamina Rare Plants Nsy, Monbulk, Victoria as sometimes listed.
Vic: Dandenongs (Mt Dandenong Arboretum; Kallista, George Tindale Gds).
Dwarf with several main branches, dense, compact, bun-shaped, leaves small, bright green, occasionally bronze. Introduced to cultivation by J.G. Veitch Nursery, London, 1861.
Leaves with patchy creamy-white variegation. Introduced from Japan to Netherlands by von Siebold in 1859.