Thujopsis Dolibrata | Siebold & Zuccarini

Thujopsis Dolibrata is a beautiful and distinctive evergreen which has the most unusual flattened fern like branchlets and leaves. It is a native of Japan and belongs to the cupressaceae family. The genus has only one species. It can grow to be a 40 metre specimen with glossy green leaves above and marked with vivid white stomatal bands on the underside. The cones are huge and can be 150mm long and 100mm in diameter. This tree must have a region which has good rainfall or a good irrigation system and is not drought tolerant.

The co-author of the tree’s name was Philipp Siebold and Joseph Zuccarini.

Phillipp Siebold into a family of medical doctors and a student of Humboldt the early naturalist and explorer. He joined the Dutch navy as a ships surgeon and sailed with the frigate Adriana in 1822 for the Far East. He arrived in Japan in 1823 and was close to drowning during a typhoon in the East China sea. At this time Japan was about to open up from it’s 200 year isolation from the rest of the world.

The European tradition of sending medical doctors with botanical training was quite normal and he became fascinated with all things Japanese. Unfortunately he was credited with the introduction of Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) which has become an invasive species in Europe. He fell foul of Japanese authority who accused him of being a Russian spy due to some coastal maps he made in 1826 on a trip to Japan and Korea. He returned to Europe and settled in the Dutch town of Leiden with a plant collection of some 12,000 species from Japan and opened a national museum of ethnology.

On a personal level Siebold married Helen von Gagern and had 3 sons and 2 daughters in 1845.

In 1885 the Japanese government lifted the banishment of Siebold and he returned to Japan in 1859. At this point in history his political meddling and some sexual exploits got him sent back to Europe. He kept trying to return to Japan but failed and died in Munich in 1866.

from the series 18th Century Plant Collectors by Robert Kean 

Scot Plants Direct at Hedgehogs Nursery, Crompton Road, Southfield Industrial Estate, Glenrothes, Fife KY6 2SF