The Attractive And Versatile Cupressus Macrocarpa

One of the cultivars of Cupressus macrocarpa is Goldcrest (Monterey Cypress). Cupressus macrocarpa has the common name of Monterey cypress or macrocarpa. There are small endemic populations of the tree at Monterey and Carmel in California. These two groups are all that is left of a once extensive forest along the west coast. It is one of the New World cypresses and, along with others of its’ type, is now often classified as Callitropsis macrocarpa.

The remnant forest in California is small groves in Point Lobos State Reserve and Del Monte Forest. Trees in the area have been verified as 2,000 years old. These regions have cool, humid summers and sea fog is a constant phenomena.

Cupressus macrocarpa is also found in western Oregon, Great Britain, Portugal, Sicily, Italy, Greece, Ireland and France. It has become naturalized in New Zealand and is well regarded there. It is now grown in Kenya with experimental crops being trialled for timber. It is a popular ornamental tree and widely grown along the coast of California where it appears in both private and public gardens.

In its’ native areas, the trees are stunted and flat-topped with twisted trunks and wide-spreading crowns. Under ideal conditions, it can reach heights of 40 meters with trunk diameters of 2.5 meters or more. It has dense sprays of bright-green foliage and rough, fibrous bark.

The cypress makes a lovely ornamental tree. In New Zealand, it is also used for fence posts and as a windbreak and shelter tree. It is often grown in rows or belts for this purpose. The foliage may cause abortion in cattle as it is slightly toxic. The absence of native diseases allows it to reach much greater heights than in its’ native areas. As a timber, its’striking colors are highly regarded by craftspeople and furniture makers. Small manufacturers and boat builders also use the timber. Although it burns well as firewood, it produces a lot of sparks and is not suitable for open fireplaces.

It thrives in oceanic areas with cool summers. Away from the coastal fog belt and in areas with hot summers, it may become infected with the fungal disease, cypress canker. In it’s native habitat, it relies on fire to force open the cones thus allowing the seeds to disperse. Cones sometimes open after hot summer days. At Point Lobos, regeneration is slow and fire treatments are being considered.

A number of cultivars have been developed to take advantage of one or other of the cypress’s distinguishing characteristics. Goldcrest and Lutea are popular as garden varieties. Both have yellow-green foliage. Goldcrest has been given the distinction of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Golden Merit.

Cupressus macrocarpa cultivars have differing attributes. Brunniana aurea has an attractive conical shape while Gold Rocket is narrower. If you like blue-green foliage, the dwarf form, Greenstead Magnificent, would be sure to please. Where the climate is not ideal and especially if the soil is poor, a good choice would be Lambertiana aurea. This is hardy and tough. Another very pretty cultivar is Aurea saligna which has long, weeping branches that cascade towards the ground. If you are looking for a striking specimen tree, it would be hard to go past Cupressus macrocarpa.

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