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What is a Cypress?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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A cypress is an evergreen coniferous tree or shrub in the genus Cupresses. Botanists also use the term to refer to plans in the family Cupressacaeae, which includes the true cypresses along with junipers and an assortment of other closely related plants. Cypress trees are native to the Northern Hemisphere, and they are widely planted around the world as ornamentals, functional hedges, and for sources of timber.

Cypress trees produce small woody cones in a roughly spherical shape, which places them among other conifers. Their leaves are slightly needlelike and scaly, and the trees produce characteristically scented oils; many people are familiar with the scent of cypress and related juniper trees, since it is quite memorable. Cypresses are classified as softwoods, producing timber of varying qualities depending on the species. Cypress wood naturally resists decay and insect infestation due to its natural oils.

As ornamentals, cypresses can add a rich swatch of green color to a garden. Many cypress trees also grow in amazing twisted shapes which can be cultivated with pruning, and the trees can also be pruned for a more regular and uniform look. Cypress trees can also be used to line driveways and to create privacy barriers; they also make superb windbreaks, since they are very hardy and the trees will grow together to form an impenetrable wall of greenery. Some farmers also use cypress trees to create neat hedges and barriers on their land.

These evergreen plants are extremely determined. Cypress trees are often found growing where no other plants will survive. The trees favor locations with poor soil, wind, and salt, and they are often found along shorelines. A cypress which lives in extremely windy conditions will develop a bent, contorted shape in an attempt to protect itself from the winds. These trees are also very long lived, with some specimens exceeding hundreds of years in age.

Many garden shops carry an assortment of cypress plants, some of which have distinctive characteristics like bluish leaves or a tendency to grow very tall and straight. In the right conditions, ornamental cypress can grow very quickly, and the trees work well in a range of gardens, from low-water gardens with poor soil conditions to lush gardens in more temperate zones. In some regions of the world, cypress trees are also accompanied with traditional superstitions or beliefs; they are popular good luck trees in many parts of the Middle East, for example.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a cypress tree?

A cypress tree is a coniferous tree belonging to the family Cupressaceae. These evergreen trees are known for their longevity and hardy nature, often found in wet, swampy areas. They are characterized by their unique, fluted trunks and conical shape, with leaves that can vary from needles to scales depending on the species.

How many species of cypress trees are there?

There are about 12 to 14 species of cypress trees recognized worldwide. These species are diverse and can be found across various continents, including North America, Europe, and Asia. Each species has adapted to its specific environment, with some like the Bald Cypress being particularly well-suited to wet conditions.

What are the common uses for cypress wood?

Cypress wood is highly valued for its durability and resistance to decay, making it a popular choice for outdoor construction, such as decking, docks, and garden structures. Its natural preservative oils help it withstand rot and insect damage. Additionally, cypress wood's fine grain and attractive color make it desirable for interior design and furniture.

Can cypress trees grow in standing water?

Yes, certain cypress species, like the Bald Cypress, are well-adapted to grow in standing water. They have developed unique structures called "knees" that protrude from the water around their base, which are thought to help in gas exchange and support the tree in its soggy environment.

How long can cypress trees live?

Cypress trees are renowned for their longevity. Some species, such as the Bald Cypress, can live for hundreds of years. In fact, there are specimens that are known to be over 1,000 years old, showcasing their resilience and ability to thrive in challenging environments.

Are cypress trees good for the environment?

Cypress trees play a crucial role in their ecosystems. They act as natural water filters and help to stabilize wetland soils, preventing erosion. Their dense root systems provide habitats for aquatic life, and their foliage offers shelter for birds and other wildlife. By storing carbon, they also contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By letshearit — On Jul 10, 2011

@StarJo - It is really incredible the amount of things that cypress tree oil is helping you with. I know that its scent has always cleared out my sinuses, but who knew it was so great for taking care of things like arthritis and bronchitis.

I have asthma and regularly have lung issues so I may have to get some cypress oil and see if it helps with my congestion. I worry about using so much over the counter medication so something natural would be great to have in my medicine counter.

Does anyone know if cypress oil is expensive, or if one variety is better than another for helping with lung problems?

By popcorn — On Jul 09, 2011

Thinking about cypress trees reminds me a lot of my grandmother's farm. She had quite a bit of property and there was a forest full of cypress trees that separated her property from the neighbors. It made a pretty impressive barrier since the trees were so huge.

I remember wandering around under those huge trees and attempting to climb a few of them. We used to gather the cypress tree cones off the ground and keep them in a basket inside because the scent was nice and rich. Whenever I go near a cypress tree the smell always brings back memories of my grandmother's home.

By StarJo — On Jul 09, 2011

@seag47 - I bought some cypress oil because I have had a cough leftover from my episode of bronchitis two years ago. I always start hacking early in the morning and late at night, but the cypress oil seems to soothe it.

I have problems with painful menstrual cramps, and the oil has been helping with that as well. Also, I have been struggling with early onset arthritis. Cypress oil seems to ease the pain of that, too.

I am thinking of just planting a tree and harvesting the oil myself. Maybe if I just sat under the tree for a few hours every day, I could be healed of all my ailments!

By seag47 — On Jul 09, 2011

I love the smell of cypress. I saw some cypress oil for sale, and I was surprised when I read about its different uses.

Cypress oil supposedly calms irritable, stressed people. It also helps ease heavy menstruation and perspiration. It is supposed to help calm asthma, bronchitis, the flu, whooping cough, and even emphysema.

I stay stressed out most of the time, so I am going to start carrying a vial of it around with me to sniff when I get overly irritated. I would wear it as perfume, but the smell has more of a masculine aroma, so I may put it on my husband instead.

By lighth0se33 — On Jul 08, 2011

@wavy58 - I love the look of cypress trees growing in sand! They really do seem out of place.

I am into photography and art, so when I saw a dead cypress tree jutting up out of the sand against a background of lake and sky, I quickly took several shots of it. The starkness of it struck me as artistic.

I looked at that photograph and drew a charcoal drawing of the scene. With all of the sharp points and twists, it translated very well into black and white.

When I returned to that place a year later, I witnessed some kids pushing the old tree down. That made me very sad, but I could not get to them in time to stop them, because a big ditch of water lay between me and them.

By wavy58 — On Jul 08, 2011

@dfoster85 - Here in Mississippi, we call those knobs "cypress knees." We have a lot of them growing beside big lakes in our state.

What's really cool is when they grow in sand, a lot of the time the sand erodes and exposes the roots and empty spaces in between them. You can see their twisted shapes, and the cypress trees seem to be sitting on top of the beach, roots and all.

It makes them look like they were plopped down from the sky from somewhere else. They look like they belong in a fairytale.

By ElizaBennett — On Jul 07, 2011

@dfoster85 - Those are gorgeous, aren't they? I'm dying to go to New Orleans but I've never been.

You can actually see the bald cypress trees surprising far north. In Virginia Beach, there's a state park, First Landing I think it's called, that has them. There's a little beach there and camping, so it's a cheap way to visit the beach. An there's a short hiking trail through wetlands with the bald cypress trees "festooned" (nice word) with Spanish moss. Part of the is actually boardwalk because it goes right through the swamp. It's definitely worth visiting!

By dfoster85 — On Jul 06, 2011

Years ago, an aunt of mine took me on a "swamp tour" when my brother and I were visiting her in New Orleans. In swamps in the Deep South, you see the bald cypress trees with their "knobs" (actually roots, I believe) sticking out of the water. They were "festooned," a the tour guide called it, with Spanish moss.

Also there were alligators who ate marshmallows, so it was pretty cool on many levels.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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