Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 826 Microbiota decussata

Common Names: Russian arborvitae, Siberian cypress Family: Cupressaceae (cypress Family)

Siberian cypress
Siberian cypress makes a durable groundcover in cold climates.


Russian arborvitae is a coniferous evergreen shrub that grows in a spreading mat or low mound, a lot like creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis). The foliage is held in flat sprays which curve gracefully downward at the tips. Foliage and shoots are bright yellowish green, turning dirty brown or purplish in winter. The leaves are like sharp pointed triangular scales, just 1/8 in (0.3 cm) long, and closely held to the twigs. Shade-grown specimens may produce some needlelike leaves as well. The cones are tiny, 1/8 in (0.3 cm) long, with leathery pale brown scales enclosing a single seed. Russian arborvitae doesn't get over 1-2 ft (0.3-0.6 m) tall, but its spread is indefinite. Russian arborvitae can be distinguished from the groundcover junipers by its downward nodding stem tips.


Russian arborvitae is native to open or thinly wooded slopes in the mountains of southeastern Siberia. It grows both below and above the timber line, and often forms extensive shrublands where almost no other plants grow. Russian arborvitae is a popular groundcover plant in Europe.


Light: Grow Russian arborvitae in full sun to partial shade. Russian arborvitae is more tolerant of shade than most of the low-growing juniper-like groundcovers. It probably will do better with more shade the farther south it is grown. Moisture: Russian arborvitae likes a moist but well-drained soil. It should not be watered in winter. It is not considered especially drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 2 - 7. As you might expect, this dwarf evergreen from Siberia is extremely tolerant of cold. It can be used in open, exposed sites where snow cover is not dependable and other plants would freeze to death. Russian arborvitae does not survive in hot, humid climates. Propagation: Semi-ripe tip cuttings taken in summer root very easily. Seed should be sown soon after harvesting in autumn.


Russian arborvitae makes an excellent groundcover, indeed one of the finest of the coniferous evergreens for gardeners in cold climates. It thrives in a wide variety of soils and can tolerate more shade than most coniferous evergreens. It performs well in dry, windy sites. Russian arborvitae is often used in rock gardens and as edging along paths and borders. Russian arborvitae is a lacy, fine textured groundcover, light green in summer and purplish brown in winter.

Siberian cypress
Siberian cypress foliage resembles that of its close relative the oriental arborvitae (Platycladus orientalis).


Russian arborvitae was first discovered near Vladivostock in 1921. It is the only species in its genus and is most closely related to oriental arborvitae (Platycladus orientalis).

Steve Christman 10/15/00; updated 4/2/04

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Microbiota species profiled on Floridata:

Microbiota decussata

( Russian arborvitae, Siberian cypress )

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