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Cypress Halefka.JPG
Cupressus sempervirens
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
(unranked): Gymnosperms
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Cupressaceae
Subfamily: Cupressoideae
Genus: Cupressus
Type species
Cupressus sempervirens

See text

Cupressus is one of several genera of evergreen conifers within the family Cupressaceae that have the common name cypress; for the others, see cypress. It is considered a polyphyletic group. Based on genetic and morphological analysis, the genus Cupressus is found in the subfamily Cupressoideae.[1][2] The common name "cypress" comes via the Old French cipres from the Latin cyparissus, which is the latinisation of the Greek κυπάρισσος (kypárissos).[3]


There has long been significant uncertainty about the New World members of Cupressus, with several studies recovering them as forming a distinct clade from the Old World members. A 2021 molecular study found Cupressus to be the sister genus to Juniperus, whereas the western members (classified in Callitropsis and Hesperocyparis) were found to be sister to Xanthocyparis.[4]


They are evergreen trees or large shrubs, growing to 5–40 m tall. The leaves are scale-like, 2–6 mm long, arranged in opposite decussate pairs, and persist for three to five years. On young plants up to two years old, the leaves are needle-like and 5–15 mm long. The cones are 8–40 mm long, globose or ovoid with four to 14 scales arranged in opposite decussate pairs; they are mature in 18–24 months from pollination. The seeds are small, 4–7 mm long, with two narrow wings, one along each side of the seed.

Many of the species are adapted to forest fires, holding their seeds for many years in closed cones until the parent trees are killed by a fire; the seeds are then released to colonise the bare, burnt ground. In other species, the cones open at maturity to release the seeds.


As currently treated, these cypresses are native to scattered localities in mainly warm temperate regions in the Northern Hemisphere, including western North America, Central America, northwest Africa, the Middle East, the Himalayas, southern China and northern Vietnam. As with other conifers, extensive cultivation has led to a wide variety of forms, sizes and colours, that are grown in parks and gardens throughout the world.[5]


Many species of cypress are grown as decorative trees in parks and, in Asia, around temples; in some areas, the native distribution is hard to discern due to extensive cultivation. A few species are grown for their timber, which can be very durable. The fast-growing hybrid Leyland cypress (Cupressus × leylandii), much used in gardens, draws one of its parents from this genus (Cupressus macrocarpa, Monterey cypress); the other parent, Callitropsis nootkatensis (Nootka cypress), is also sometimes classified in this genus, or else in the separate genus Xanthocyparis, but in the past more usually in Chamaecyparis.

Cultural references[edit]

It was believed in the Hellenic culture that the cypress tree was sacred to the gods and it is now used as an emblem of grief. The name of the genus comes from Cyparissus, a young man loved by Apollo, very attached to a deer which he ended up killing by mistake during a hunting trip. To ease the pain Apollo transformed the boy into a plant. The association with mourning continued in Roman times, up to the present day, also for a practical reason: the roots of the cypress are straight into the ground, and expand slightly laterally, not damaging the burials.


The number of species recognised within this genus varies sharply, from 16 to 25 or more according to the authority followed, because most populations are small and isolated, and whether they should be accorded specific, subspecific or varietal rank is difficult to ascertain. Current tendencies are to reduce the number of recognised species; when a narrow species concept is adopted, the varieties indented in the list below may also be accepted as distinct species. See also the New World species (below) for a likely split in the genus in the future.

Old World species[edit]

The Old World cypresses tend to have cones with more scales (8–14 scales, rarely 6 in C. funebris), each scale with a short broad ridge, not a spike. C. sempervirens is the type species of the genus, defining the name Cupressus. They are more closely related to Juniperus than to the New World species, with the exception of the Vietnamese golden cypress, which is more closely related to New World species.[4]

Image Cone Name Common Name Distribution
Cupressus atlantica0.jpg Cupressus atlantica 8.JPG Cupressus atlantica Moroccan cypress western Morocco.
CupressusCashmerianaSochi.JPG Cupressus cashmeriana CBN Brest 05.jpg Cupressus cashmeriana Bhutan cypress eastern Himalaya in Bhutan and adjacent areas of Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India
Cupressus chengiana - Quarryhill Botanical Garden - DSC03571.JPG Cupressus chengiana Cheng's cypress Gansu and Sichuan Provinces, China
Yunnan Cypress, Christchurch Botanic Gardens.jpg Cupressus duclouxiana - Quarryhill Botanical Garden - DSC03443.JPG Cupressus duclouxiana (syn: Cupressus austrotibetica)[6] Yunnan cypress, South Tibet cypress Yunnan and Sichuan, China
Cupressus dupreziana - Lyman Plant House, Smith College - DSC04374.JPG Cupressus dupreziana Saharan cypress southeast Algeria
Cupressus funebris 02.jpg Cupressus funebris.jpg Cupressus funebris Chinese weeping cypress southwestern and central China
Cupressus gigantea - Quarryhill Botanical Garden - DSC03577.JPG Cupressus gigantea Tibetan cypress Southeast Tibet - China
Cypress of Abarqu.JPG Cupressus sempervirens.JPG Cupressus sempervirens Mediterranean cypress, type species northeast Libya, southern Albania, coastal Bulgaria, southern coastal Croatia, southern Montenegro, southern Bosnia and Herzegovina, southern Greece, southern Turkey, Cyprus, northern Egypt, western Syria, Lebanon, Malta, Italy, Israel, western Jordan, and Iran
Cupressus torulosa (villa Hanbury, Italy).jpg Cupressus torulosa (syn: Cupressus tonkinensis) Tonkin cypress, Himalayan cypress Sichuan of China and in Vietnam
Xanthocyparis vietnamensis.jpg Cupressus vietnamensis (syn: Xanthocyparis vietnamensis) Vietnamese cypress, Vietnamese golden cypress Vietnam

New World species[edit]

The New World cypresses tend to have cones with fewer scales (4-8 scales, rarely more in C. macrocarpa), each scale with an often prominent narrow spike. Recent genetic evidence[7] shows they are less closely related to the Old World cypresses than previously thought, being more closely related to Xanthocyparis than to the rest of Cupressus. These species have recently been transferred to Hesperocyparis and Callitropsis. New World species are found in marginal habitats with xeric soils, and therefore exhibit a fragmented allopatric pattern of distribution. This type of distribution results in disproportionate local abundance with most species restricted to small neighboring populations.[8]

Image Cone Name Common Name Distribution
Cupressus abramsiana Butano Ridge.JPG "HORNY" Santa Cruz Cypress cones - Flickr - theforestprimeval.jpg Cupressus abramsiana (Cupressus goveniana var. abramsiana; Callitropsis abramsiana;) Santa Cruz cypress Santa Cruz Mountains of Santa Cruz and San Mateo Counties in west-central California
Cupressus arizonica tree Chiricahua.jpg Hadley Draw, North of Cookes Peak DSC 0342 (26830879709).jpg Cupressus arizonica (Callitropsis arizonica) Arizona cypress southwestern United States (Arizona, Utah, southwestern New Mexico, and southern California, with a few populations in southern Nevada and in the Chisos Mountains of western Texas), and in Mexico (Coahuila, Nuevo León, Chihuahua, Sonora, Durango, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas and northern Baja California).
Cupressus bakeri Matthewsii 5zz.jpg Cupressus bakeri timbered crater east female cones - Flickr - theforestprimeval.jpg Cupressus bakeri (Callitropsis bakeri) Modoc cypress northern California and extreme southwestern Oregon
Cupressus forbesii at Coal Canyon-Sierra Peak, Orange County - Flickr - theforestprimeval (9).jpg Cupressus forbesii at Coal Canyon-Sierra Peak, Orange County - Flickr - theforestprimeval (16).jpg Cupressus forbesii (Callitropsis forbesii) Tecate cypress Santa Ana Mountains of Orange County and in San Diego County within Southern California, and in northern Baja California state of Mexico.
Arbol Arizonica (2) (11983201525).jpg Cupressus glabra cones Pine AZ 2.jpg Cupressus glabra (Callitropsis glabra) smooth Arizona cypress Sedona, Arizona
Cupressusgoveniana1.jpg Cupressus goveniana (Callitropsis goveniana) Gowen cypress, Californian cypress Monterey County, California
Cupressus guadalupensis.JPG Cupressus guadalupensis (Callitropsis guadalupensis ) Guadalupe cypress Mexico, found only on Guadalupe Island
Mexican Cypress.jpg Starr 061225-2938 Cupressus lusitanica.jpg Cupressus lusitanica (Callitropsis lusitanica ) Mexican cypress Mexico and Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras)
Cupressus macnabiana sparse crown.JPG Cupressus macnabiana cones.JPG Cupressus macnabiana (Callitropsis macnabiana ) Macnab cypress northern California
A Blarney castle Tree - - 596689.jpg Cupressus (4361342586).jpg Cupressus macrocarpa (Callitropsis macrocarpa ) Monterey cypress Cypress Point in Pebble Beach and at Point Lobos near Carmel, California
Cupressus montana (Callitropsis montana ) San Pedro Martir cypress Mexico: Baja California
Cupressus nevadensis Hobo Ridge Grove (50) - Flickr - theforestprimeval.jpg Cupressus nevadensis Hobo Ridge Grove (49) - Flickr - theforestprimeval.jpg Cupressus nevadensis (Callitropsis nevadensis ) Piute cypress Southern Sierra Nevada, within Kern County, California and Tulare County.
Cupressus nootkatensis 1337.JPG Cupressus nootkatensis 43603.jpg Cupressus nootkatensis (syn: Xanthocyparis nootkatensis) Nootka cypress Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
Cupressus goveniana ssp. pygmaea - University of California Botanical Garden - DSC09051.JPG Cupressus pygmaea foliage cones.jpg Cupressus pigmaea (Cupressus goveniana var. pigmaea; Callitropsis pigmaea ) Mendocino cypress Mendocino and Sonoma Counties in northwestern California
El Rincon Cypress DSC 0066 (26828864699).jpg Cupressus revealiana 2.jpg Cupressus revealiana El Rincon cypress Baja California in northwestern Mexico
Cupressus sargentii, Hood Mountain, Sonoma Co.jpg Cupressus sargentii.jpg Cupressus sargentii (Callitropsis sargentii) Sargent cypress Mendocino County southwards to Santa Barbara County California
Cupressus stephensonii and ARctostaphylos pringlei with Cuyamaca peak in the background - Flickr - theforestprimeval.jpg Cupressus stephensonii cones at Cuyamaca Peak - Flickr - theforestprimeval.jpg Cupressus stephensonii (Callitropsis stephensonii ) Cuyamaca cypress San Diego County California

Allergenic potential[edit]

All plants in the genus Cupressus, including New World Cupressus (now Callitropsis), are extremely allergenic, and have an OPALS allergy scale rating of 10. In warm, Mediterranean climates, these plants release large quantities of pollen for approximately seven months each year.[9]


  1. ^ Farjon, A. (2005). Monograph of Cupressaceae and Sciadopitys. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. ISBN 1-84246-068-4.
  2. ^ Gadek, P. A., Alpers, D. L., Heslewood, M. M., & Quinn, C. J. (2000). Relationships within Cupressaceae sensu lato: a combined morphological and molecular approach. American Journal of Botany 87: 1044–1057)
  3. ^ κυπάρισσος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  4. ^ a b Stull, Gregory W.; Qu, Xiao-Jian; Parins-Fukuchi, Caroline; Yang, Ying-Ying; Yang, Jun-Bo; Yang, Zhi-Yun; Hu, Yi; Ma, Hong; Soltis, Pamela S.; Soltis, Douglas E.; Li, De-Zhu (July 19, 2021). "Gene duplications and phylogenomic conflict underlie major pulses of phenotypic evolution in gymnosperms". Nature Plants. 7 (8): 1015–1025. doi:10.1038/s41477-021-00964-4. ISSN 2055-0278. PMID 34282286. S2CID 236141481.
  5. ^ Eckenwalder, James E. (2009). Conifers of the world: the complete reference. United Kingdom: Timber Press. p. 720. ISBN 978-0881929744.
  6. ^ "Cupressus duclouxiana in Flora of China @". Home. Retrieved 2019-08-02.
  7. ^ Little, D. P., Schwarzbach, A. E., Adams, R. P. & Hsieh, Chang-Fu. 2004. The circumscription and phylogenetic relationships of Callitropsis and the newly described genus Xanthocyparis (Cupressaceae). American Journal of Botany 91 (11): 1872–1881. Abstract
  8. ^ Little, D. P. (2006). Evolution and circumscription of the true Cypresses. Syst. Bot. 31 (3): 461-480.
  9. ^ Ogren, Thomas (2015). The Allergy-Fighting Garden. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press. p. 95. ISBN 9781607744917.
  • Farjon, A. (2005). Monograph of Cupressaceae and Sciadopitys. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. ISBN 1-84246-068-4.
  • Gadek, P. A., Alpers, D. L., Heslewood, M. M., & Quinn, C. J. (2000). Relationships within Cupressaceae sensu lato: a combined morphological and molecular approach. American Journal of Botany 87: 1044–1057. Available online.