Arizona Cypress

Arizona Cypress

Cupressus arizonica Greene

The Arizona cypress is a steeple shaped tree with a pale-green to gray-green color. The leaves are extremely tiny and quite plentiful. They lay close to the branchlet surface in a scale like arrangement and are about 0.1 inches long.

The bark is thin and delicate with a reddish brown color. It splits into strips along the length of the tree.

The cones are spherical in shape and woody. They mature in two years. Tiny yellow flowers are visible in the fall of the year. Heights of 80 feet and trunk diameters up to 3 feet have been recorded. The Arizona cypress has a pleasing aroma.

There are about 30 cultivars of Arizona cypress. These horticultural cultivars have been grouped under the names Cupressus arizonica var. glabra and Cupressus glabra alternatively by various authors. Although most of these cultivars have come from Australia and New Zealand, the most commercially significant one is ‘Carolina Sapphire’. It was selected by Dr. Roland Schoenike (of the Clemson University Forestry Department) and Marvin Gaffney (Director of Nurseries for the South Carolina Forestry Commission) in 1968 from trees growing on Tom Wright’s Tree Farm in Ward, South Carolina. The trees growing at Wright’s were produced from germinated wild seed in 1961. The unique characteristics of these plants qualified them for registration by the Royal Horticultural Society (the international authority for the registration of conifer names) in 1987. Other cultivars used as Christmas trees include Cupressus arizonica var. glabra ‘Clemson Greenspire’, …’Blue Pyramid’ (aka ‘Blue Ice’), and …’Silver Smoke’. The latter two are New Zealand selections.

The Arizona cypress covers the largest natural range of the North American cypresses. It is found in west Texas, northwest Mexico, southwest New Mexico, south California, and southern Arizona. It has been successfully grown in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, the Florida panhandle, Tennessee, and in the Carolinas. It demonstrated substantial cold hardiness in the mountains of North Carolina during the winter of 1995-6.

Arizona cypress is most commonly propagated by seed germination. But the aforementioned cultivars are propagated by rooted cutting. This technique guarantees progeny with genetic characteristics identical to the parent plant, an important consideration to Christmas tree growers.

The wood of the Arizona cypress is hard, heavy and durable. It has been used as fence posts and as timbers in mine shafts. And today it has become a valued Christmas tree. It is primarily available at choose and cut Christmas tree farms in the south, southwest and along the east coast of the U.S. It is also used as a landscape plant in that same area.

Prepared by Clarke J. Gernon, Sr., Shady Pond Tree Farm