A ground-hugging, wide-spreading shrub. Branchlets arranged in flattened sprays as in Chamaecyparis and Thuja. Leaves mostly scale-like and appressed, but spreading and acicular on seedling plants and on shaded sprays of adults; the scale-leaves are elliptic, acute, with a gland on the back. Male flowers in terminal clusters. Ripe cones minute, consisting of a single, naked, roundish-oval seed, apiculate at the apex, surrounded at the base by the spreading, persistent scales.
This species was discovered in 1921 growing above the tree-line in the mountains to the north-east of Vladivostok, and later in other localities in the Ussuri region of the Russian Far East. It was soon brought into cultivation at the Experimental Station at Khabarovsk, but did not reach Europe until around 1957, when cuttings were obtained from Russia by the Novy Dvur Arboretum in Czechoslovakia. The latter gave cuttings about ten years later to the botanic garden at Hannover-Muenden, and that garden in turn to the Trompenburg Arboretum at Rotterdam, whence a plant was exhibited by Mr van Hoey-Smith at Chelsea in 1973. From Trompenburg, cuttings were distributed to many British growers and to Dutch nurseries, which now propagate it in quantity. It has been reintroduced to the United States from its natural habitat by the USDA Plant Introductions Station and there are plants from this provenance at Kew.
Russian botanists have stated that the species is dioecious, so when a plant first coned in the Trompenburg Arboretum, Mr van Hoey-Smith assumed that the flowers must have been pollinated by a conifer of some other genus. Some years later, however, he discovered both male and female flowers on the same plant, and furthermore that seedlings from the first coning agreed with the parent (International Dendrology Society Year Book, 1978, pp. 101-2 and 1982, p. 82). So at least the Novy Dvur clone is monoecious, although its ability to produce fertile seed is of no horticultural importance, propagation by cuttings being very easy.
M. decussata makes a fast-growing, very hardy, carpeting shrub, attaining barely a foot in height but soon 6 to 12 ft in width. The leaves are deep green in summer, bronzy purple in winter.