Grafting Cross-Genera Species: Chamaecyparis on Cupressus

Earlier this year we tried a Hinoki graft on a Yellow Cedar, just to see if it would take. It did.

For the most part, we tend to assume grafting within the same genus. White pine onto Black pine (for smaller needle). Apple onto apple (for different varieties of fruit). 

Grafting compatibility, though, can stretch a bit further than those listed in the same genus. We can get a semi-dwarf pear tree by grafting normal, tree-sized pear onto quince, which is a smaller plant with a smaller root system. And that keeps the pear smaller. 

For bonsai we may wish to ‘change the clothes’ of the tree for a higher foliage quality. This is changing one foliage genetic for another. Denser, tighter growth is one of the more common choices. The scion is what we’re grafting with, and the stock is what we’re grafting onto.

So with this test we decided to try a perennial favorite, Hinoki cypress ‘Nana’ (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’), as our scion. This variety of Hinoki grows more tightly than normal seedling types. We grafted it, out of curiosity, onto Yellow Cedar (Cupressus nootkatensis) stock, a local conifer that keeps getting tossed around by taxonomists like a hot potato as they don’t know what genus it should belong to. Currently many consider it Cupressus.

As an aside…back in the day, when I studied Botany, the structures of seeds and flowers were the prime determiners of genus alliance. It was essentially visual. Now, DNA similarity is also considered, so there’s a big sea change happening in how everything from birds to plants to even bacteria are organized with each other. Many that looked similar are proving to be not very closely related at all.

In short, we inserted three Hinoki ‘Nana’ scions into a small, collected Yellow Cedar stock plant. We had one graft fail, one on the way to find out (meaning that it took, but not strongly), and a third took strongly.

This was a fun test to explore cross-genus compatibility. Perhaps you’d like to try it on other closely related plants.

Here’s a couple photos of the graft that did well:

The brighter, denser shoot is the Hinoki scion, the grayer, leggier growth is the Yellow Cedar stock plant. The Hinoki is growing, and burst out of the grafting tape (buddy tape) within a few months, which is a sure sign of a good take.

Another shot of it, showing the shari that Yellow Cedar is coveted for. 

Grafting is fun! In honor of the 20th Anniversary of Bonsai Empire this month, we did a short primer video on grafting, using juniper as our example: 

Footnote: I should mention that I’m not sold on grafting Yellow Cedar with something else, for while this tree has leggy foliage it can be managed very nicely with pinching to create denser foliage: Yellow Cedar Refinement


  1. perennialjet says:

    Interesting to me, even with my very limited grafting experience.

    On Fri, Dec 11, 2020 at 3:02 AM Michael Hagedorn wrote:

    > crataegus posted: ” Earlier this year we tried a Hinoki graft on a Yellow > Cedar, just to see if it would take. It did. For the most part, we tend to > assume grafting within the same genus. White pine onto Black pine (for > smaller needle). Apple onto apple (for different var” >

    • crataegus says:

      Something to play around with for sure. Getting familiar with the technique with the commonly grafted species is a good path, then moving on to the more challenging or unknown ones.

  2. Ray Nortis says:

    Very nice Michael, graft looks very healthy.
    Thank you for the information.

  3. maciek416 says:

    Here’s a very interesting document regarding grafting compatibility / incompatibility, from Cornell:

    According to this document, there seem to be “multiple paths” to either compatibility, and they’re (surprisingly!) not strictly limited to the genetic/taxonomic distance between two species. Looks like basic anatomical / mechanical issues can get in the way too.

    Another interesting tidbit from the above is that interspecies grafts can take at first, but then later decline or fail catastrophically. Some really fascinating sources of incompatibility include toxins (i.e. the scion produces a toxin that injures the stock, or vice versa), as well as viral infection.

    Finally, there is a mention of Interfamilial grafting, of which there are apparently a few reports in distantly-related herbaceous species, but “no confirmed reports of interfamilial grafts between woody perennials” — strong suggestion that in our bonsai experiments we shouldn’t expect miracles between very distant species. The document cites an “unconfirmed” report of grafting between Yellow Birch and American Elm, though.

    • crataegus says:

      Absolutely correct. Getting a take on a graft is only the first step.
      One of the mechanical reasons of failure is size differential, which in bonsai may be mitigated somewhat. Though I do wonder about some of the very strong varieties of Itoigawa juniper that are being used currently in Japan, which causes swelling, and whether that might not cause trouble in the future. On the other hand some unions can last nearly indefinitely: there are pines in the Imperial Family collection in Japan that are hundreds of years old, White Pines grafted onto Black. I’ve seen them with my own eyes, grafted when very young to judge by the bark development.
      Toying with different unions might interest some, and grafting is a much studied field as there is a lot of economic benefit to the technique. For bonsai my sense is it is early days, especially considering all the new global species being used for bonsai—or in some cases, not used—because of poor foliage quality. Grafting might make many useable. And here keeping within the same genus is likely the first thing to try.
      Waiting many years doesn’t appeal to many, but that is where sharing stories through our community comes into play. We don’t all need to test everything.
      Time travel technology could be of help here. Though I’m not sure even Cornell has breached those shores…

  4. Gerald Rainville says:

    Do you think it would be successful to graft hinoki onto another species of chyamaecypress such as bluemoss cypress ?

    • crataegus says:

      It’s an interesting idea, I think definitely worth trying. Bluemoss, while soft and nice, has a tendency of legginess that might be improved with grafting. Let us know your results!

  5. Todd Morgan says:

    a second cousin of mine is said to have grafted several kinds of fruit trees onto a hawthorn… I think it included apple and pear… My mother talked about it many times…

  6. Brian mcgrath says:

    Hi Michael. A few years ago I mentioned to you I was going try grafting shimpacu onto red cedar. Procrastinating aside I did it first week in December. My buddy tape is stretching, and we are still green green. It’s early I know but seems encouraging. What a breakthrough if it works. I have cedar everywhere here in the Pacific Northwest

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