False Cypress Shrubs With Golden Foliage

Gold Mops, Sun Gold, King's Gold, and Dwarf Gold Thread

King's gold false cypress (Chamaecyparis). David Beaulieu

Plant names can sometimes drive you crazy, and the false cypress genus, Chamaecyparis, is a case in point. But all confusion over plant names aside, this colorful genus is clearly a favorite among American gardeners, who have planted 'Gold Mops' and other popular varieties for their bright golden foliage. Their color is at its best in the spring season, but some varieties do a good job of retaining this bright color during the summer, too.

The Truth About False Cypress

The confusion around false cypress begins with the fact that the name, Chamaecyparis, does not translate neatly to "false cypress" but rather to "ground cypress" (the Greek, chamai meaning "on the ground"). This, despite the fact that some species in the genus, far from hugging the ground, grow up to be tall trees.

Although not true cypresses, the trees and shrubs in the false cypress genus belong to the cypress family. Other genera in this family include the true cypresses, along with the junipers and the arborvitae.

Some of the most gorgeous trees and shrubs in the landscape are types of Chamaecyparis, including Hinoki cypress, Weeping Alaskan cedar, and Threadleaf" false cypress shrubs, such as 'Gold Mops' and 'Dwarf Gold Thread.'

The Threadleaf Group

Some of the false cypress shrubs that fall into the so-called Filifera or threadleaf group boast a showy, greenish-golden to golden foliage. What all of these shrub cultivars share is a scaly, golden foliage that is string-like in form. The latter trait is the reason for the name, "Filifera," which is Latin for "thread-bearing."

  • 'Gold Mops': Suitable for USDA plant hardiness zones 5 to 7, Gold Mops bears scaly leaves that keep their golden color, provided the shrub gets enough sun. It can get winter burn in cold climates.
  • 'Dwarf Gold Thread' or 'Filifera Aurea Nana. Suitable for planting zones 5 to 8, this shrub's leaves fade during the summertime, taking on more and more green. 
  • 'Sun Gold': Suitable for planting zones 4 to 8, this shrub does not keep its color quite as well through summer as does Gold Mops, but it does a better job of avoiding winterburn.
  • 'King's Gold': Suitable for planting zones 4 to 8, King's gold retains its golden color pretty well through the summer, if it is grown in full sun.

With their fine texture, these threadleaf false cypress shrubs are great for giving your yard visual interest, and their golden foliage opens up some interesting options when developing landscape color schemes. For example, when you use deep red barberries as a companion plant to go along with the golden foliage of a false cypress, it creates an instant focal point.

Growing False Cypress Shrubs

Shrubs in the threadleaf group generally want full sun (but only partial sun at the southern end of their range) and a fertile soil that drains well. The ground should be kept evenly moist, often requiring watering once a week in summer until the plants get comfortable. These shrubs have a slow growth rate. Pruning is easy: Simply prune on an as-needed basis. This will vary depending on how much space you have to grow the plant in.