|Leyland cypress foliage and cone|
C. × leylandii
|Cupressus × leylandii|
The Leyland cypress, Cupressus × leylandii, often referred to simply as leylandii, is a fast-growing coniferous evergreen tree much used in horticulture, primarily for hedges and screens. Even on sites of relatively poor culture, plants have been known to grow to heights of 15 metres (49 ft) in 16 years. Their rapid, thick growth means they are sometimes used to achieve privacy, but such use can result in disputes with neighbours whose own property becomes overshadowed. The tree is a hybrid, almost always sterile, and propagated mainly from cuttings.
In 1845, the Leighton Hall, Powys estate was purchased by the Liverpool banker Christopher Leyland. In 1847, he gave it to his nephew John Naylor (1813–1889). Naylor commissioned Edward Kemp to lay out the gardens, which included redwoods, monkey puzzle trees and two North American species of conifers in close proximity to each other – Monterey cypress and Nootka cypress. The two parent species would not likely cross in the wild as their natural ranges are more than 400 miles (640 km) apart, but in 1888 the hybrid cross occurred when the female flowers or cones of Nootka cypress were fertilised by pollen from Monterey cypress.
John Naylor's eldest son Christopher John (1849–1926) inherited Leighton Hall from his father in 1889. Christopher was a sea captain by trade. In 1891 he inherited the Leyland Entailed Estates established under the will of his great-great-uncle, which passed to him following the death of his uncle Thomas Leyland. On receiving the inheritance Christopher changed his surname to Leyland, and moved to Haggerston Castle, Northumberland. He further developed the hybrid at his new home, and hence named the first clone variant 'Haggerston Grey'. His younger brother John (1856–1906) resultantly inherited Leighton Hall, and when in 1911 the reverse hybrid of the cones of the Monterey cypress were fertilised with pollen from the Nootka, that hybrid was baptised 'Leighton Green.'
The hybrid has since arisen on nearly 20 separate occasions, always by open pollination, showing the two species are readily compatible and closely related. As a hybrid, although fertility of certain Leyland cypress forms were recently reported, most Leyland cypress were thought to be sterile, and nearly all the trees we now see have resulted from cuttings originating from those few plants. There are over forty forms of Leyland cypress, and as well as 'Haggerston Grey' and 'Leighton Green', other well-known forms include 'Stapehill', which was discovered in 1940 in a garden in Ferndown, Dorset by M. Barthelemy and 'Castlewellan', which originated from a single mutant tree in the Castlewellan estate arboretum in Northern Ireland. This form, widely propagated from the 1970s, was selected by the park director, John Keown, and was named Cupressus macrocarpa 'Keownii', 1963.
Taxonomic status of Nootka cypress
The taxonomic status of Nootka cypress has changed over time. In the past, it was regarded as belonging in the genus Cupressus, and later placed in Chamaecyparis. It has become clear, however, that when the genus Cupressus is defined to include Chamaecyparis, it is paraphyletic unless it also includes Juniperus. In 2004, Little et al. transferred the Nootka cypress to Callitropsis. Little (2006) proposed another alternative by transferring all the North American species of Cupressus, including the Monterey cypress (C. macrocarpa), to Callitropsis.
In some of these classifications, the hybrids become very unusual in being intergeneric hybrids, the only ones ever reported among the gymnosperms. In 2010, Mao et al. performed a more detailed molecular analysis and redefined Cupressus to exclude Chamaecyparis, but to include the Nootka cypress. It may be added that attempts to cross Nootka cypress with other Chamaecyparis species have been universally unsuccessful. Where Nootka cypress is treated in Chamaecyparis, the name of the hybrid becomes ×Cupressocyparis leylandii, and where treated in Xanthocyparis, the hybrid becomes ×Cuprocyparis leylandii.
Two other similar hybrids have also been raised, both involving Nootka cypress with other Cupressus species:
- Cupressus arizonica var. glabra × Cupressus nootkatensis (Cupressus × notabilis)
- Cupressus lusitanica × Cupressus nootkatensis (Cupressus × ovensii)
Leyland cypress is light-demanding but is tolerant of high levels of pollution and salt spray. A hardy, fast-growing natural hybrid, it thrives on a variety of soils and sites are commonly planted in gardens to provide a quick boundary or shelter hedge, because of their rapid growth. Although widely used for screening, it has not been planted much for forestry purposes. In both forms of the hybrid, Leyland cypress combines the hardiness of the Nootka or Alaska cypress with the fast growth of the Monterey cypress.
The tallest Leyland cypress presently documented is about 40 metres (130 ft) tall and still growing. However, because their roots are relatively shallow, large leylandii tend to topple over. The shallow root structure also means that it is poorly adapted to areas with hot summers, such as the southern half of the United States. In these areas it is prone to develop cypress canker disease, which is caused by the fungus Seiridium cardinale. Canker causes extensive dieback and ultimately kills the tree. In California's Central Valley, they rarely live more than ten years before succumbing, and not much longer in southern states like Alabama. In these areas, the canker-resistant Arizona cypress is much more successful. In Northern areas where heavy snows occur, this plant is also susceptible to broken branches and uprooting in wet, heavy snow. The tree has also been introduced in Kenya on parts of Mount Kenya.
The sap can cause skin irritation in susceptible individuals.
In 1925, a firm of commercial nurserymen specialising in conifers were looking for a breed which was fast-growing, and could be deployed in hard to grow windy and salty areas such as Cornwall. Eventually they found the six original trees developed by Leyland, and began propagating the species. In 1953, a freak tornado blew down one of the original trees at Haggerston (the other original five trees still survive), on which the research division of the Forestry Commission started developing additional hybrids. Commercial nurseries spotted the plant’s potential, and for many years it was the biggest-selling item in every garden centre in Great Britain, making up to 10% of their total sales.
It continues to be a popular plant for cultivation in parks and gardens. Leyland cypress trees are commonly planted in gardens to quickly form fence or protection hedges. However, their rapid growth (up to one meter per year), their thick shade and their large potential size (often more than 20 meters high in garden conditions, and they can reach at least 35 meters) make them problematic. The cultivar 'Gold Rider' has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit (confirmed 2017), though the original hybrid has now lost its AGM status.
Varieties include 'Douglas Gold', 'Leighton Green', 'Drabb', 'Haggerston Grey', 'Emerald Isle', 'Ferndown', 'Golconda', 'Golden Sun', 'Gold Rider', 'Grecar', 'Green Spire', 'Grelive', Haggerston 3, Haggerston 4, Haggerston 5, Haggerston 6, 'Harlequin', 'Herculea', 'Hyde Hall', 'Irish Mint', 'Jubilee', 'Medownia', 'Michellii', 'Moncal', 'Naylor's Blue', 'New Ornament', 'Olive's Green', 'Robinson's Gold', 'Rostrevor', 'Silver Dust', 'Variegata', 'Ventose' and 'Winter Sun'.
The plant's rapid growth (up to a metre per year) and great potential height – often over 20 metres (66 ft) tall, sometimes as high as 35 metres (115 ft) – can become a serious problem. In 2005 in the United Kingdom, an estimated 17,000 people were at loggerheads over high hedges, which led to violence and in at least one case murder, when in 2001, retired Environment Agency officer Llandis Burdon, 57, was shot dead after an alleged dispute over a leylandii hedge in Talybont-on-Usk, Powys.
Part VIII of the United Kingdom's Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, introduced in 2005, gave a way for people affected by high hedges (usually, but not necessarily, of leylandii) to ask their local authority to investigate complaints about the hedges, and gave the authorities in England and Wales power to have the hedges reduced in height. In May 2008, UK resident Christine Wright won a 24-year legal battle to have her neighbour's leylandii trees cut down for blocking sunlight to her garden.
In a botanical garden in Wroclaw
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- Media related to Cupressus × leylandii at Wikimedia Commons