Oriental Arborvitae

Scientific name: Platycladus orientalis

Fact Box:

  • Order: Pinales
  • Family: Cupressaceae
  • Genus: Platycladus
  • Species: P. orientalis


Also called Chinese thuja and Chinese arborvitae, the oriental arborvitae is the only species in its genus, Platycladus.

The tree or shrub is part of the Cupressaceae, or cypress, family and is native to Asia. Both juniper and cypress trees can be grafted with the oriental arborvitae, which means the trees can be joined on the trunk. For example, the top part of a juniper tree could be joined with the bottom part of an oriental arborvitae and survive.

Shaped like a cone or pyramid and usually symmetrical, oriental arborvitae has cones that turn from bluish-green to reddish-brown when they ripen.


The common name, oriental arborvitae, comes from the Latin words meaning “China” and “tree of life.” Oriental indicates to the plant’s native region of China. Arborvitae indicates that the plant is long-lasting and is associated with long life. Hardy, evergreen, and drought-resistant, this tree (or shrub) seems to live up to its name.


Chinese Buddhist temples have planted these trees for more than a thousand years. Some still do. Take this example:

One of the largest Buddhist communities in the West — the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas — incorporates oriental arborvitae shrubs in its landscaping. In fact, the two rows of oriental arborvitae leading to the main hall are one of the defining features of the monastery grounds.

The shrubs on either side of the central walkway are oriental arborvitae. The building in the center is the main Buddha Hall in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. (Source: Wikipedia, no changes made.)


Landscaping is just one area that uses oriental arborvitae. Other areas include construction material and incense wood.