Leyland Cypress

Leyland Cypress

x Cupressocyparis leylandii

Common Characteristics:
The most popular Christmas tree in the South-East, the Leyland Cypress is dark green – gray in color and has very little aroma. Because it is not in the Pine or Fir family, it does not produce sap, so that those with an allergy to sap can still enjoy a Leyland as their Christmas Tree.

The name Leyland cypress is used to describe a group of trees where all the members are sterile hybrids. There are no naturally occurring Leyland cypress. They must be propagated by rooted cuttings.

This tree is a hybrid of Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) and Alaskan cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis). In 1888, six seedlings were discovered by C.J. Leyland at Leighton Hall in the South of Wales. The two parent trees were growing on the Estate and cross bred purely by accident. Intergeneric crossbreeding is a rare occurrence in plants and particularly in conifers.

Mr. Leyland continued to develop the trees with the assistance of his nephew J.M. Naylor during the early 1900’s. In 1941, rooted cuttings arrived in United States, through California, for the first time. Then in 1965, they found their way to South Carolina where their potential for use as Christmas trees became apparent to Dr. Roland Schoenike (of the Clemson University Forestry Department), Marvin Gaffney (Director of Nurseries for the South Carolina Forestry Commission) and Tom Wright (a private Christmas tree grower and NCTA Director).

The foliage of the Leyland cypress varies somewhat from one cultivar to the next. But in general it tends to be arranged in irregularly flat planes with a dark green to gray color. The shoots branch repeatedly and have a contrasting mahogany color except at the tips. The trees have little aroma.

The bark of the Leyland cypress is has a skin-like texture and is quite delicate. In its mature form, heights of 138′ are expected, and the tree is capable of withstanding temperatures of about 0ø F.

There are many cultivars of Leyland cypress, but the 8 most common ones are Haggerstown Grey (the original), Leighton Green, Gold Cup, Castlewellan, Green Spire, Naylor’s Blue, Silverdust, and Robinson’s Gold.

The Leighton Green cultivar has been most commonly used as Christmas trees. The foliage of this tree is a dark forest green. It is heavy and stout with a somewhat coarser appearance when compared to the other Leyland cultivars.

Castlewellan has very delicate lacy foliage. In winter, the exterior of the tree turns gold while the interior remains green. Castlewellans are noted for their strong tendency to conical growth.

Silver Dust is identified by the white variegated splotches on the foliage. Their leaf structure is otherwise very similar to that of Leighton Green.

Since Leyland cypress is not a naturally occurring tree, it has no natural range. But, it has been successfully grown in England, Australia, New Zealand, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas.

Leylands are propagated by rooted cutting only.

In England, the Leyland cypress is used as an ornamental and as a wind break. In New Zealand and Australia it is used for wood products. In the United States, it has become a valued landscape plant and one of the most sought after Christmas trees in the southeastern states.

These trees are usually available at choose and cut tree farms only.

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