Cypress Trees

Reviewed by Sally Painter
Leyland Cypress Trees in New Mexico

The world's most famous Cypress tree hugs the Pacific coastline. The Lone Cypress is an iconic natural treasure found along the 17-mile-Drive in Pebble Beach, California. Fortunately, you don't have to book a flight to the West Coast to catch a glimpse of stunning Cypress trees. With some basic tools and a little skill, you can decorate your own yard with one of the many types of Cypress that flourish in temperate conditions.

Appearance of the Tree

Its majestic appearance makes the Cypress tree a popular choice for ornamental landscaping. However, before you line your property with the attractive Cupressus species, it's important to note its main characteristics:

  • Shape: Varies among types. For example, the Monterey Cypress can grow up to 70 feet tall and features a wide, flat canopy which resembles an open umbrella. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cypress resembles a traditional Christmas tree and can reach heights of about 60 feet. Among the smallest of the species is the Gowen Cypress which rarely grows taller than 25 feet and looks more like a shrub than a full-grown tree.
  • Foliage: The Cypress foliage features different shades of green, from dark green to light bluish-green depending on the tree type. Its leaves range from fine needles to scaly overlapping hair-like appendages that look similar to braids attached to twigs.
Cypress tree foliage closeup
  • Fruit: The species yields small cones, some of which look like nuts and others are woody cones that measure roughly two inches wide. Each of the tiny cones contains no more than 30 seeds.
Cypress tree cones on branch
  • Branches: Since the Cypress includes both evergreen and deciduous trees, the branches differ from tree to tree. While the Leyland Cypress sports flat branches, the Pond Cypress has spiny offshoots.

Cypress Tree Types

There are nearly two-dozen types of Cypress trees in the world, though the heartiest versions grow in North America. Among the vast and varied group of Cypress trees, which feature unique characteristics, and call the United States home are:

  • Leyland Cypress: The fast-growing specimen can reach heights to 50 feet. The flat-branched evergreen features soft pine needles and tolerates many soil conditions.
  • Arizona Cypress: The sturdy tree thrives in dry and hot conditions. Located in the southwestern portion of the United States, the trees are used as windbreakers thanks to their dense foliage.
  • Bald Cypress: Known for its height and protruding roots, the bald Cypress is a deciduous tree which grows best in swampy areas with very moist soil. The trees are commonly found in coastal regions and can live for centuries.
Bald Cypress tree overhanging the river
Italian Cypress trees lining road

While they may not share all the same physical attributes, Cypress trees have one thing in common: they are havens for wildlife. Birds are especially fond of Cypress trees' sturdy branches and needles that make for excellent nest-building material.

The Many Looks of the Cypress Tree

Cypress tree nut in branches
Cypress Tree Wood Closeup
Sculpted Cypress trees in a row
Cypress trees in swamp
Cypress trees above Lake Garda in winter
Cypress tree roots in water

Where the Cypress Grows

Cypress trees grow mainly along North America's southern coastlines where they have easy access to swampy, wet soil and full sunlight. However, some types prosper along the eastern portion of the United States, ranging from Delaware to Florida. Other Cypress types are thriving in warmer climates, such as Texas and Nevada. These dry states provide the tree with rich, clay-like soil and mud that contains numerous nutrients.

Lone Monterey Cypress tree at sunrise

Popular Uses

The Cypress tree produces some of the world's most prized wood. It is lightweight and durable which makes it an ideal building material. Adding to the wood's popularity is the fact that it doesn't generate sap and therefore doesn't bleed. This unique characteristic also means the tree's wood takes well to stains, paint and sealers. What's more, the Cypress's attractive light to dark honey color is a quality carpenters and artists find highly appealing.

Popular uses for the Cypress include:

  • Chests and Boxes
  • Tables
  • Bed frames
  • Cabinets
  • Boats
  • Roofing shingles
  • Siding
  • Bridges
  • Porches
  • Barns
  • Greenhouses
  • Firewood

Cypress trees are also valued for their firewood and oil. The wood is easy to split, dries quickly and burns clean, so you don't have to worry about excessive tar and soot residue. In addition, oil from the tree is used for shampoo and other beauty products.

Cypress wood box for project

Interesting Facts

The Cypress tree has a fascinating history that dates back to the ancient Egyptians who used the durable trees to build mummy cases. The Greeks were also fans of the tree and used its wood to create urns to store the ashes of those who died in battle. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that Plato's code of laws was etched into Cypress wood because it was thought to outlast brass.

The Cypress tree's popularity is also deeply rooted in the American south where a major travel attraction bears its name: Cypress Gardens. Located in Berkeley County, South Carolina, this botanical garden has been a top-rated family destination since 1931. The property is home to hundreds of Cypress trees which frame other features of the park, including the butterfly house, fresh water aquarium and rose gardens. Meanwhile, Winter Haven, Florida, used to be home to another Cypress Gardens, which closed in 2009. The historic gardens will forever be remembered for the dozens of majestic Cypress trees that lined Lake Eloise and the sprawling flower beds that burst with color.

Boating On Lake Eloise, Cypress Gardens

Cypress Diseases

While the Cypress is durable and extremely resistant to harsh weather conditions, it still has a number of foes. Among the most common Cypress diseases are:

  • Seiridium canker: This disease targets the tree's stems and branches. Sunken cankers that have a dark brown or purple hue dot the tree's limbs and cause infections. If the disease is not treated the cankers can overtake the Cypress and kill the entire tree.
  • Root rot: The disease is prevalent with Cypress trees that do not have adequate soil drainage. Severe infections will present as yellowing foliage and damaged roots. The fungus spreads through the stump and its root system, and may eventually infect the entire tree.
Yellowing foliage on Cypress tree

Cypress Care

When planted in rows, Cypress trees can grow to be a formidable border, able to withstand high winds and other inclement weather. However, to ensure that your Cypress investment pays off, follow these simple tips on how to properly care for your tree:

  • Find a sunny area to plant the tree as Cypresses need full sun exposure.
  • Most Cypresses need moist soil to prosper, especially during the early stages of growth.
  • Avoid planting a Cypress in cramped spaces. The tree's roots need ample room to expand. This is critical for taller types of Cypress trees.
  • Remove all weeds that sprout near your Cypress tree. Weeds rob needed nutrients from the roots of the tree and if allowed to grow, weeds will also block the sun and stunt the growth of the young Cypress.
  • Prune off dead or diseased branches as soon as you recognize them, and examine the tree for canker and root disease on a regular basis.
Holding little Cypress tree in hands

Majestic Cypress Trees for Your Landscape

There are many types of cypress trees. With a little care, you can include this beautiful graceful evergreen in your home landscaping plans.

Cypress Trees