False Cypress

There is a lot of conflicting information available about the popular small evergreen shrub False Cypress

The recent availability of several cultivars of the bright  golden evergreen shrub False Cypress has resulted in a lot of confusion and conflicting information.  It is difficult to distinguish the accurate information from the inaccurate, particularly when even reliable nurseries mislabel or provide misinformation about their specific plants.  This has become a problem only because there are so many species and cultivars that are very similar.  And the naming of the plants are so similar that it is difficult to determine which ones are different and which simply have several common names.  But very similar is not always good enough when the plant you select grows twice the expected size, is not reliably hardy for your region, or does not do well in the site you selected.

Four species are commonly used in landscaping, several hundred cultivars, variants and related species, within those species are available.

Family:  Cupressaceae

Genus:  Chamaecyparis

  • Species: pisifera - Commonly referred to as Sawara Cypress. Known for its’ varieties of smaller shrubs with bright foliage and distinctive weeping habit.

  • Species: obtusa - Commonly referred to as Japanese Cypress or hinoki cypress.

  • Species: lawsoniana - Commonly referred to as Lawson’s Cypress.

  • Sp ecies: thyoides - Commonly referred to as Atlantic White Cypress or Atlantic White Cedar.

Chamaecyparis pisifera species:

There are two common types of growth characteristics in the pisifera species.


Threadleaf have arborvitae type foliage, sometimes with a stringy appearance, of golden yellow or green.  Form is broad and spreading.



Squarrosa have short needle foliage with a twisted appearance, of blue silver.  Form is upright with a central leader.


The most confusing group is within this pisifera species, the threadleaf types generically referred to as the ‘Mops’.  Visually, the many variants and named cultivars are nearly identical when young, and many gardeners are purchasing with the assumption that some of them are the same plant with different names.  And even if you know that not to be true, it is hard to get the right information.  Hopefully we can clear up some of the confusion with the original ‘Mops’ and related varieties.  If you are looking for the “original” common Mops, this is probably what you are looking for:

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’ / Golden Mop Threadleaf False Cypress / Charmaecyparis pisifera filifera ‘Mops’ / Mops False Cypress

  • Conifer Family: Cupressaceae

  • Mature Height: 3 feet

  • Mature Width: 4 feet

  • Growth Rate: Slow

  • Light Requirements: Full sun, afternoon shade in hot regions.

  • Water Requirements: Needs weekly watering, more often in extreme heat. Will become more drought resistant as it matures.

  • Soil Preference: Average to fertile well drained soil, does not like wet soil.

  • Foliage: Yellow green feathery foliage

  • Cone or Berry: Inconspicuous

  • Disease and Insects:

  • Pest Resistance: Deer resistant

  • Fertilize: Use a 6-12-12 or 10-10-10 fertilizer in early spring

  • Spacing: Plant 5 feet apart.

  • Hardiness: Zones 4-8


The dramatic foliage of the ‘Golden Mop’ is bright yellow green with a feathery, almost stringy appearance.  The glowing gold foliage creates a lovely accent to deeper green conifers.  ‘Mops’ holds its’ golden color through summer, unlike other golden cultivars.  The slightly weeping branches gives the plant a shaggy, mophead form.  If a neater form is desired, shear annually to shape it.   To control size, prune out branches to a joint to retain the unique shape.  In ideal conditions ‘Golden Mop’ can grow larger.  ‘Golden Mop’ is an excellent foundation plant for small spaces, in border plantings or edging a shrub border.  Stunning in groups of three or more.  Color is best in full sun, but will do fine in part shade.  However, ‘Mops’ in full sun in northern regions may be susceptible to winter burn.  Regular watering is important, especially in the first season to establish a good root system.

‘Mops’ is a dwarf Threadleaf or Filiform variant.  There are larger cultivars that are nearly identical such as those listed below:

**The following two Mops are frequently listed as separate variants.  The only notable difference found has been in the mature size, and the difference is minor.  Certain references maintain that the filifera can get substantially larger.  I am not so certain they are different at all, filifera refers to the threadleaf form.  There are 3 new filifera in my garden and based on my research I expect them to mature to 3 feet high and 4 feet wide.

**Chamaecyparis pisifera filifera ‘Gold Mops’ Dwarf Gold Thread False Cypress  reaches 3-4’ high and 3-5 ‘ wide.  Hardy in zones 4-8.

**Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Mops’ Gold Thread False Cypress reaches 4-5’ high and 4-5’ wide.  Hardy in zones 4-8.

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘King’s Gold’ is a variant of the standard ‘Gold Mop’.  In the nursery it looks identical to the ‘Mops’.  It is larger, reaching  3-5’ high and 3-5’ wide in ten years, and possibly reaching more than 10-15’ high and 8-10’ wide at maturity in ideal conditions (which generally would be in the warmer regions).  It may not be reliably hardy in zone 4, requiring heavy mulching to ensure it survives.

Chamaecyparis pisifera filifera ‘Sun Gold’ In the nursery can look identical to the ‘Mops’.  It is quite similar, reaching 3-6 feet high and wide, but can get larger in warmer regions.  Foliage is the same as a ‘Mops’, but may become a bit more dense and a bit more green in summer, and the form may become a bit more cone shaped than mounded.  ‘Sun Gold’ will hold up to full sun without burn, which many of the Chamaecyparis have trouble with.  Hardy in zones 4-8.

‘Gold Thread False Cypress is sometimes used as a ‘name’.  This is incorrect and incomplete.  It is really only a common term to refer to the group of threadleaf plants.  Be sure you purchase a plant with a complete name so you can be sure of what you are getting.  Note the two examples below.

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera Aurea’ Sometimes called simply ‘Gold Thread False Cypress’.  In the nursery, ‘Aurea’ can also look nearly identical to the ‘Gold Mop’.  But it is also larger, reaching 6-9’ high and wide.  It is hardy in zones 5-8.  I have seen these named ‘Gold Thread False Cypress Golden Mop’ - this is not correct, ‘Gold Thread’ is not a ‘Mop’.  ‘Golden Mop’ is a mutation of ‘Filifera Aurae’ and is a true dwarf with more yellow foliage.

Chamaecyparis pisifera filifera ‘Bright Gold’  Again, sometimes simply called ‘Gold Thread False Cypress’.  ‘Bright Gold’ is compact, reaching only 3-4’ high and wide.  Hardy in zones 5-8.

Chamaecyparis pisifera filifera  ‘Japanese False Cypress’  with no additional naming associated, this is the basic species tree.  It is a thread leaf, but not a golden foliage thread leaf.  Although it is a lovely pyramid shape with a weeping habit.  Makes a wonderful specimen tree anchoring a shrub border.  Grows 6-10’ high.

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Gold Spangle’ grows 5 feet tall, or 12 feet tall, or 20 feet tall, or 35 feet tall, and one source even indicated that it grows from 2 feet to 70 feet tall!  I found no source considered reliable, and they are not commonly grown in this region so I have no advice.  But this is a good, but extreme example of the inaccurate information available, not only on the web, but in the garden nurseries!  So be careful!

All your questions may not have been answered, but hopefully you know what to look for and what to be careful of.  Do your research if you are not sure about the nursery information, these are beautiful plants, well worth your time

Sharon Dwyer