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The Chinese swamp cypress is a small deciduous tree with glabrous young shoots. As in the nearly related Taxodium distichum the young shoots are of two kinds: 1) persistent and bearing axillary buds; 2) deciduous and without any buds. The former, which are usually terminal, bear the leaves spirally round the twig; the latter bear the leaves distichously (that is, arranged in two opposite rows) and they fall off in autumn, carrying the leaves with them. The leaves also are of two kinds: those on the budless, deciduous twigs are linear, 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 in. long, 1⁄20 in. wide, pointed or bluntish; those on cone-bearing twigs short, scalelike, 1⁄12 to 1⁄8 in. long. There are also others of intermediate size. Cones obovoid or pear-shaped, 3⁄4 to 1 in. long, 5⁄8 to 1⁄2 in. wide towards the top.
Native of S. China, in damp places, known mainly as a cultivated tree; there are specimens in the Kew Herbarium from Kwangtung, Fukien, and Chekiang provinces. The twigs and leaf arrangement very much resemble those of the American swamp cypress. It is not hardy at Kew, but plants grown in pots under glass are very charming for many weeks in autumn and early winter for the soft glowing red of the fading leaves. According to Henry, the Chinese peasants plant it on the north side of their villages to bring luck to the home, and amongst the rice fields to increase the crop.
This species is very rare in British gardens. There is an example at Nymans, Sussex, about seventy years old, measuring 12 × 1 ft (1968), and a smaller one grows against a wall at Leonardslee in the same county. The plant at Exbury mentioned in previous editions died recently.
The gender of Glyptostrobus is masculine, not feminine as has been suggested.
Whether G. lineatus or G. pensilis is the correct name for this species depends on the identity of the plant in the garden of Monsieur Noisette, inadequately described by Poiret in 1807 as Thuja lineata. Some authorities consider that this was the American Taxodium ascendens f. nutans, in which case G. pensilis would be the name to use. But there is evidence that Noisette did in fact have a taxodium-like conifer from China in his garden. Another possible reason for using the epithet pensilis is ill-founded. It is true that the species was mentioned by Sir George Staunton, as Thuja pensilis, in his account of the British Embassy to China (1797). But this remained a nomen nudum until validated by D. Don in 1828.
The largest specimen of G. lineatus in the British Isles grows at Dunloe Castle, Co. Kerry; growing in damp ground it is almost 40 ft high with a clear stem of 10 ft, and is 2 ft 41⁄2 in. in girth (1987 – measured by P. H. B. Gardner). The example at Nymans in Sussex measures 18 × 11⁄2 ft (1985). G. lineatus was reintroduced by Keith Rushforth in 1981 under his number KR 402.