Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today


NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.


NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.


New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.


Plant Profiles

'Berrima Gold' Incense Cedar

Conifers with gold foliage aren't unusual. Indeed, some are horrifyingly popular. (Ah, the visual assault of Juniperus pisifera 'Filifera Aurea' before countless fast-foods.) Even so, Berrima Gold incense cedar deserves a place in any garden where it's hardy. Indeed, I think of it as a category killer: Start with Berrima Gold and, maybe, finish right there.


The bright gold young foliage is just the first reason. See the tips of young foliage in the picture below? Lemon yellow, yes? Well, yolk-yellow at the darkest.


Calocedrus decurrens Berrima Gold Youngest Bark FIngers 020618 915 


Now look more closely—and not just at the warm coppery-rust of the bark, as juicy a pairing with lemon-yellow as it is. What about the foliage just below those lemon-yellow tips? And the young stems it arises from? They are each a tan so pale it could be better be termed parchment. What a contrast with mature foliage of all other fanspray conifers, which is darker than the juvenile. With Calocedrus decurrens 'Berrima Gold', foliage brightens with age.


Now savor the very tip of my young tree: All the foliage is tan to parchment. This coloring is in response to winter's cold weather. When it's even more severe, stem tips of Berrima Gold are reported as turning bright copper or even orange. I can't wait.


Calocedrus decurrens Berrima Gold Tan Tip Fingers 020618 915 


Already, this tree's subtleties are almost too much of a bounty for any one conifer to rightly enjoy. Below, the tan-to-copper-in-frigid-weather tips, other lemon-yellow new foliage that, for its own reasons, is happy to stay that hue and, farther down the stems, hints of the parchment-white mature foliage.


Calocedrus decurrens Berrima Gold Tan new foliage 020618 915


Deeper within the foliage canopy, the interplay of contrasts "simplifies" to just the coppery bark, lemon-yellow first-year foliage, and parchment mature foliage.


Calocedrus decurrens Berrima Gold Bark Fingers 020618 915


Below, my young specimen—perhaps four feet tall and, so, five to ten years old—sited to honor its almost unsurpassable showiness: along one of the garden's most important axial pathways.


Calocedrus decurrens Berrima Gold Top to Wellstone 020618 915


When my tree is older, the last two players in its performance will arrive: the cones. Male cones are tiny and, even on the straight species, bright yellow; they spangle the tips of new growth. What color will they be on Berrima Gold? I'll report in ASAP. Female cones are small, too, and usually less prominently sited within the interior of the foliage canopy.


I'll revisit this tree as it grows: Not one note of its performance should be missed. 




Here's how to grow this must-have evergreen:



Latin Name:

Calocedrus decurrens 'Berrima Gold'

Common Name:

Berrima Gold incense cedar. "Incense" cedar? When crushed, the foliage releases a heavy fragrance reminiscent of that of incense. "Cedar?" Calocedrus is unrelated to true cedars, which are in the pine family, Pinaceae. Calocedrus is in the Cupressaceae family, along with the other fanspray "cedars," such as ChamaecyparisCupressus, CupressocyparisThujopsis, and Thuja.  


Cupressaceae, the Cypress family.

What Kind of Plant Is It?

Hardy, upright, fanspray conifer.


Calocedrus decurrens 'Berrima Gold' is not quite as hardy as the straight species: to Zone 6 not 5a. It  to 9b.


Strongly upright and columnar, with short branches emerging from the central trunk. Unlike the similar-in-texture-and-size Thuja plicata, whose profile is narrowly pyramidal, Calocedrus maintains a cigar-like profile. Sometimes, it produces secondary trunks from the base, which usually detract from the otherwise purely upright form. They can also be a liability in climates with heavy snowfall. See the first "How to handle it," box, below.  

Rate of Growth:


Size in Ten Years:

Calocedrus decurrens grows more slowly outside its native range, and typically matures as a comparatively smaller specimen. "Smaller" is relative, in that wild specimens of the straight species in its native western North America can approach or even exceed two hundred feet in height. Cultivated specimens in climates with hot and humid summers typical of eastern North America and continental Europe are not likely to reach more than thirty to fifty feet. Berrima Gold is smaller still, growing to about five feet during its first decade, and not likely to exceed thirty even after decades of growth. 


Feathery, and so similar to that of Thuja that the two can be difficult to distinguish on texture alone. But the coloristic details of Calocedrus foliage—especially that of Berrima Gold—make it instantly recognizable. See "Grown for," below.

Grown for:

Its astonishing foliage, and its sophisticated interplay with the colorfully-barked stems: As is typical of fan-spray conifers, individual leaves are tiny, flat, and scale-like. They emerge in orderly ranks up either sides of the stems. When young, the stems are so slender, and the same color as the leaves, that it's difficult to distinguish the two: It can seem as if the leaves are budding directly from one another in long branching chains, like the yeast cells you studied in high school biology.


Eventually, stems mature enough that their bark color changes from the yellow-white of the leaves to contrasting shades of copper and rust. Calocedrus bark can be a show in itself.


Young leaves change color two ways: due to changing temperatures, and due to increasing maturity. With conifers in general, it's the norm that color mutes as leaves mature. Leaves of Cupressocyparis 'Robinson's Gold', for example, emerge soft gold in spring, but by fall have faded to green. This fade is by no means an automatic downer: The contrast of brighter new and darker old foliage can be stunning, as in these shots of Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Fernspray Gold'.  


Foliage of Calocedrus decurrens is unique among fansprays in becoming paler in color with maturity, not darker. In the straight species, the bright green juvenile foliage matures to a lighter, subtlely silvered or (frankly) grayer shade of green. Foliage of Berrima Gold, however, changes from bright lemon-yellow to creamed-butter-and-sugar yellow, to ghostly parchment-white.


The other shift in foliar color can occur with the onset of cold weather. Then, young foliage adopts shades of tan, orange, and copper that coordinate thrillingly with the warm chestnut hues of the mature bark. Berrima Gold is exciting year-round.

Flowering Season:

Summer: Each tiny pollen-bearing cone is the size of short-grained rice, and forms at the very tip of a young stem. These male flowers are yellow and, despite their small size, are in the aggregate very showy into early winter. They are the reason that branches of Calocedrus foliage can be so distinctively sparkling in end-of-year garlands, wreaths, and bouquets. Female flowers—also at the tips of new growth, but usually somewhat in the interior of the foliage canopy—are far less showy, and mature to small "pine" cones about the size of your fingertips.

Color Combinations:

Berrima Gold's rich palette is two-fold and complex. First, there's the foliage, which is lemon-yellow when young and parchment-white when mature—except when the weather turns cold, when the young foliage can acquire tones of orange and copper. Second, there's the rusty copper of the bark, which echoes any foliage that as "coppered" in the cold even as it contrasts with the remaining foliage that stays yellow or parchment.


This is such a nuanced display that it's risky for companion plants to highlight still other colors: To my eye, pink, red, or blue would only create raucous clashes. Even white, normally a universal mixer, is a challenge, because it could make the parchment of the mature foliage look faded or dirty.


Instead of adding more colors, explore this cultivar's own already-generous palette. Need still more? The only other possibilities are green and burgundy. See "Plant Partners," below.  

Plant Partners:

True, Berrima Gold's inherent coloristic complexity limits its ability to combine gracefully with contrasting colors other than burgundy and green. Even complementary colors—yellow, copper, orange—can be tricky: Resist the temptation toward companions with yellow foliage, whose hue could look wan next to the electric tones of Berrima Gold. Also use caution with variegates with white foliage, which might make the parchment of Berrima Gold's mature foliage look dirty. Further, the ensemble around your Berrma Gold will be more attractive when it doesn't contain other fanspray or needle conifers. They would only look like also-rans. Consider, instead, broadleaved, deciduous, or grassy choices. Lastly, remember that Berrima Gold is actively intriguing all year long, so avoid companions with a lengthy less-than-attractive off-season. Despite all of these cautions, it would be a mistake to conclude that companions for Berrima Gold are few, or the results unexciting. 


With such any spotlight-hogging plant, there's great virtue in celebrating its primacy with a deferential context. Dark green backgrounders whose highest calling is to be the spear carriers for this Cleopatra include broadleaves such as Ilex opaca, particularly in any of its yellow-berried forms. American holly's other advantage is that it's large enough, and easy enough to mass, that it can background even a hedge of Berrima Gold, not just a soloist. Bulky-enough deciduous partners for backgrounding include witch hazels, whose flowers can be chosen either to match the yellow (e.g., Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise') or copper (e.g., Hamamelis 'Jelena') that Berrima Gold can be trumpeting in winter.


If your nerve is strong and the context really big—say, an acre or three of miscellaneous grass-and-trees on all sides—you could use Berrima Gold as the exclamation point (or, as a grove, exclamation points) to a purple-leaved beech. Remember that Fagus sylvatica itself demands a massive dedicated footprint; only plant Berrima Gold outside a beech-centered circle whose radius is eighty or even a hundred feet. If planting a grove of Berrima Gold, space them thirty feet apart on center, and allow even more space for the beech by having just one tree in the Calocedrus grove tangent to that beech circle.


If your circumstances are truly epic, consider, instead, a serpentine hedge of Berrima Gold coursing by your purple beech—but, then, continuing on its own important way in either direction. Yes, this would mean a hundred or more yards of Berrima Gold hedge, to which I can only implore, "What are you waiting for? If being able to take advantage of such an opportunity isn't the purpose of life, what is?"       


If the background is broadleaved and evergreen, in the foreground or "sideground" you'll need to be deciduous (e.g., Fraxinus excelsior 'Aureifolia', whose winter stems are gold), herbaceous (e.g., Silphium terebinthinaceum, with bright yellow daisies and dark-green leaves), or grassy or "bambooey" (e.g., Indocalamus tessellatus, whose enormous leaves can turn beautifully parchment in a rough winter). If the background is deciduous, then a broadleaved foregrounder could be one of the lower forms of cherry laurel, such as Prunus laurocerasus 'Zabeliana'


The coppery tones of Berrima Gold foliage in winter are so distinctive that a garden whose peak is winter-long could be created in their honor. In addition to the Jelena witchhazel, consider these: a marcescent hedge (of, e.g., American beech); an espalier or pollard of Winter Orange linden; drifts of Winter Gold winterberry, leatherleaf sedge, or (in Zone 8 and warmer) Caramel heuchera; and a specimen of paperbark maple.

Where to Use It in Your Garden:

Berrima Gold is so unusual in color that it's a stunning and even startling presence. This is not a tree to site casually, lest it appear bizarrely left out of the spotlight—and you bizarrely out of touch with its inherent theatricality and requirements for an appropriately celebratory setting.


Berrima Gold is a nature focal-pointer as a specimen at the end of a vista. It's also a powerful "pacer" when evenly spaced in a large and lengthy planting bed—say, along a walkway or driveway. If you're not planning on pruning to reduce the tree's eventual width, spacing of thirty or even forty feet would not be too far apart, whereas twenty would likely be too close.


Berrima Gold would also form a showstopping hedge—but its brightness means that it could not be called upon to do a hedge's more typical job of being the understated but strong backdrop to the real excitement in the foreground. The trick is for a Berrima Gold hedge to be the foreground—but to what plants or features that are massive and dark-hued enough to function as backdrop?


See "Plant Partners," above, for possibilities for all of these scenarios.


Although Calocedrus tolerates shade, foliage density can be severely reduced. Given that Berrima Gold is all about foliage, plant to maximize its display: in full sun in almost any soil with reasonable drainage. When established in its native range, Calocedrus is notably drought-tolerant (unlike Thuja plicata, which the straight species of Calocedrus resembles). Nonetheless, when growing Calocedrus in a garden, the best performance will be achieved when the tree enjoys adequate—i.e., "normal"—soil moisture, and the soil is average to nutrient-rich.  

How to Handle It: The Basics:

If balled-and-burlapped specimens are available, don't open the burlap until the tree is already planted, so as not to further disturb the already-fragile rootball. (See "Downsides," below.) Only after planting, peel back the burlap to expose the entire top of the rootball. Cut off the excess burlap, then scuffle gently down into the exposed soil, to remove it if needed so that the tree's root flare is exposed.


Planting container material is usually simpler, in that the tree will usually have had time to root into the available soil more thoroughly and, so, hold together when unpotting. Even so, be cautious in the unpotting. It may be less disturbing to the rootball to cut the sides of the pot away, leaving the bottom intact and in place, then lowering the tree into its hole and, only at the last minute, sliding the pot's bottom disk free.


In Zone 7 and warmer, Calocedrus can be planted any time fall into the spring that the soil is workable. In Zone 6, plant only in spring.


When growing as a free-range specimen, formative pruning of the foliage canopy isn't needed to achieve density or limit spread. At any time of the year, prune off any secondary trunks as they become noticeable: They will be able to maintain foliage only on their exposed outer portion and, so, are always imbalanced. They are highly vulnerable to being splayed out or even fractured by heavy snow or ice. If your garden includes a mature Calocedrus with such secondary trunks, their removal could create large vertical gaps in the overall foliage. Instead, guy the secondary trunks to the primary so they remain in place.  

How to Handle It: Another Option—or Two? 

As is true for all fanspray conifers, the foliage canopy tolerates trimming as long as you don't remove so much that a given branch retains nothing but its woody basal portion. Fansprays sprout new foliage from old wood only fitfully. Instead, prune back only as far as will leave some green foliage in place.


You could combine the possibility of such foliage-only pruning with the striking bright-yellow color of young foliage to manipulate Berrima Gold far beyond its free-range habit. (The typical response to pruning, remember, is to increase the production of new foliage.) Options include:


A hedge: Plant three feet apart. In fall, trim foliage as needed to maintain the desired profile, which will then remain smartly in effect all through the winter until growth resumes in spring. Remember that few branches of fanspray conifers can releaf if pruned back to bare, leafless stubs, so don't let the hedge grow much larger than the desired dimensions before pruning. And if you have a true Rip Van Winkle episode, you might not be able to recut back to your intended dimensions.


A "trunkal" spiral: If you have a few decades to devote, consider growing Berrima Gold in a spiral where the trunk itself, not just the canopy, follows the curve. I have a quartet of Yellow Ribbon arborvitae in such training; in another fifteen or twenty years, they'll have reached the top of their supporting structure. As with the hedge, work on the trees in fall, so that their geometry is highlighted all winter. Spring through summer, the new growth makes the spiral shaggier; think of this, not as a loss of form, but as the gift of additional growth to be brought into training come fall. 

Quirks and Special Cases:

As with other members of its genus, when growing in climates with cool summers, Calocedrus often grows with a habit that is strikingly narrow. Members of a famous old grove at Britain's Westonbirt Arboretum seem like arboreal organ pipes.


The tree can also be known as the pencil cedar, but not because its cool-summer habit could be described as pencil-thin. Rather, the wood can be milled to such small dimensions without shedding splinters that it's ideal for the wood casings of pencil lead.


Along with the completely unrelated conifer, Juniperus chinensis 'Torulosa', the green foliage of the straight species of Calocedrus decurrens is the best of all conifers hardy to zone 5 at maintaining a fresh green color through the winter.


The roots of Calocedrus are ropey rather than fibrous and, in my experience, don't usually form coherent rootballs. Unless the climate is cooperatively cool and moist for several weeks after transplanting, even young plants are risky to transplant. Think about the distant future when siting Calocedrus, then: Trees are reported as living many centuries—even a millenium. 


As with other members of its genus, Calocedrus decurrens favors us with some striking cultivars. That said, most are similar enough to more widely available striking cultivars of other fan-spray conifers that only the dedicated collector need grow them. The exceptions are Berrima Gold and the straight species, both of which are distinctive enough to make them essential wherever they are hardy. In particular, Berrima Gold cannot even be approximated, let alone be duplicated or surpassed, by even the showiest cousins in the other fanspray genera.


Foliage of Aureovariegata is irregularly pale yellow, giving the tree a confetti'd appearance and texture similar to that of Thujopsis dolobrata 'Variegata'. Compacta is, indeed, dense and mounding; its foliage is green; Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Repens' or 'Gracilis' are similar enough, and far more widely available. Intricata is an irregularly upright semi-dwarf with green foliage, and could be mistaken for the similarly-sized (but denser) Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Gracilis'. New foliage of Maupin Glow is gold but matures to green; Cupressocyparis 'Robinson's Gold' is similar. 


Online and, when shopping in its native range, at "destination" nurseries.


By grafting.

Native Habitat:

Calocedrus decurrens is native to western North America, from central Oregon south to Mexico's Baja California province. Berrima is a town in the Australian province of New South Wales where, presumably, Berrima Gold was discovered. 

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