Forest 66 - Chinese Arborvitae

Platycladus orientalis

Platycladus orientalis leaf. Photo not from the Arboretum Platycladus orientalis seed cones and leaves. Photo not from the Arboretum

Other common names

Chinese thuja, Oriental arborvitae. Chinese: Ce bai

Origin of the species name

Platycladus from Greek meaning broad or flat branch; orientalis from Latin referring to it being from the east, in this case from east Asia.



Date planted

April 2010


Some cultivated trees of this species in China are thought to be over 1000 years old.

Platycladus orientalis tree. Photo not from the Arboretum

General description

This is a slow-growing small to medium-sized, densely-branched evergreen tree. The bark on the trunk and large branches becomes fibrous and can peel off in long strips. The numerous, slender, ascending branches support shoots that spread out in flat, vertical planes. The small cones are a waxy blue-green before maturing to brown. Height 18m Spread 6m.

Natural distribution and habitat  

The species is native to northwestern China, Korea and the Russian Far East. It is apparently quite widespread but the range is confused by populations which may have been planted. It occurs in cold dry regions including both open woodland and open and often unstable slopes from 300 to 3,300 m in China.

Conservation status

It is classified as being a rare, near threatened species and is the only species of its genus. As it has been in cultivation for a long period, considerable confusion exists in terms of what are natural stands and what are planted stands of the species.

Planted pattern

Planted in straight lines forming a check pattern.


The common name 'arborvitae' is from Latin meaning 'tree of life', and is based on its association with long life and vitality in Buddhist thought in China. The wood is used in Buddhist temples, both for construction work and chipping for incense burning. The foliage is also used for incense.

Further reading

Farjon, A (2010) A Handbook of the World's Conifers. Brill.