Global Range: Monterey, Mendocino, and Sonoma Counties, California.
Regional Distribution in the Western United States
This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):
3 Southern Pacific Border
Occurrence in North America
northwestern California [14,22,26]. Gowen cypress (Cupressus goveniana
ssp. goveniana) occurs in only two areas of Monterey County, California:
Huckleberry Hill, and between San Jose Creek and Gibson Creek .
Mendocino cypress occurs in a narrow, discontinuous strip along the
Mendocino County coast known as the "Mendocino White Plains" or "pine
barrens" [26,27]. A grove also occurs in Sonoma County . Gowen
cypress is cultivated in Hawaii .
Gowen cypress is a native, evergreen tree. It has a bushy growth form and grows
from 16.5 to 23 feet (5-7 m) tall [5,18,27]. Mendocino cypress has a
single, slender trunk and sparse crown [18,27]. It grows from 3.3 to
6.6 feet (1-2 m) tall on sterile soils and from 33 to 165 feet (10-50 m)
tall on richer soils [5,18,27]. Mature leaves of both subspecies are
0.04 to 0.08 inches (1-2 mm) long, although they can be up to 0.4 inch
(10 mm) long on vigorous shoots . Ovulate cones are solitary, up to
0.8 inch (20 mm) long. Staminate cones are 0.12 to 0.16 inch (3-4 mm)
long [18,27]. The bark is smooth and fibrous, becoming rougher with
age. It can be several centimeters thick [5,27]. The bark of Mendocino
cypress occurs in strips, peeling easily after death of the tree, but
otherwise intact . Gowen cypress forms a well-defined taproot and
numerous laterals the first year [8,27]. The root systems of
Gowen cypress are extensive and shallow, less than 1 foot (30 cm) deep
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Closed-cone coniferous forest of the coastal ranges of the coastal ranges of California, often with Pinus muricata (Bishop pine).
usually on exposed sites [16,26]. In Mendocino County, these areas are
flooded during the winter, forming shallow bogs or ponds [26,27].
Gowen cypress occurs at elevations from 100 to 990 feet (30-300 m). Mendocino
cypress occurs at elevations below 1,650 feet (500 m) .
Key Plant Community Associations
Gowen cypress can occur in dense thickets as well as in open groves.
Dense thickets are common in regenerating burns . In Monterey
County, Gowen cypress (Cupressus goveniana ssp. goveniana) and bishop
pine (P. muricata) form almost impenetrable thickets . In some
areas Gowen cypress is associated with closed-cone coniferous woodlands
and closed-cone pine-cypress forests [5,24,26].
Mendocino cypress is associated with redwood (Sequoia
sempervirens)-Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and other north coast
coniferous forests in Mendocino County . This subspecies is also a
component of the Mendocino pygmy cypress forest, which intergrades with
upland redwood and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis)-grand fir (Abies
grandis) forests .
Gowen cypress (C. g. ssp. goveniana) is a component of the Monterey
pygmy cypress forest, which intergrades with Monterey pine (Pinus
radiata) forest on deep soils .
Publications naming Gowen cypress as a community dominant are listed
Preliminary descriptions of the terrestrial natural communities of
The vascular plant communities of California 
The closed-cone pines and cypress 
Species not previously mentioned but commonly associated with Gowen
cypress include Monterey cypress (Hesperocyparis macrocarpa), Mendocino White
Plains lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta ssp. bolanderi), shore pine (P.
c. ssp. contorta), valley oak (Quercus lobata), Coulter willow (Salix
coulteri), Monterey ceanothus (Ceanothus rigidus), glory brush (C.
gloriosus var. exaltatus), waveyleaf ceanothus (C. foliosus), sandmat
manzanita (Arctostaphylos pumila), Hooker manzanita (A. hookeri), hairy
manzanita (A. columbiana), glossyleaf manzanita (A. nummularia),
Eastwood manzanita (A. glandulosa), Pacific bayberry (Myrica
californica), giant chinquapin (Chrysolepis chrysophylla), salal
(Gaultheria shallon), Eastwood's goldenbush (Enceliopsis fasciculata),
chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium
ovatum), Pacific rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum), coast
Labrador tea (Ledum glandulosum var. columbianum), navarretia
(Navarretia atractyloides), skunkweed (N. squarrosa), bush monkeyflower
(Mimulus aurantiacus), evergreen violet (Viola sempervirens), pink sand
verbena (Abronia umbellata), Monterey sedge (Carex montereyensis),
California canarygrass (Phalaris californica), and beargrass
(Xerophyllum tenax) [6,7,16,24,26].
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
229 Pacific Douglas-fir
234 Douglas-fir - tanoak - Pacific madrone
248 Knobcone pine
255 California coast live oak
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K006 Redwood forest
K009 Pine - cypress forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K030 California oakwoods
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES34 Chaparral - mountain shrub
Habitat & Distribution
Fire Management Considerations
Fires occurring too frequently in Gowen cypress groves may destroy them,
as reproduction could be eliminated before it has a chance to produce
cones. Conversely, fire suppression could threaten the species .
Plant Response to Fire
Both subspecies produce dense thickets after fire . The Huckleberry
Hill grove of Gowen cypress in Monterey County was reduced from over 100 acres
(40 ha) to only a few hectares by a 1901 fire. By 1948, the grove had almost
returned to its prefire size .
Immediate Effect of Fire
to crown fires, which kill most trees. Some trees survive when fires
are patchy . Large trees could probably survive surface fires.
Cones of the California cypress species open as the resin melts and
boils. Rapid charring of the thick cone scales extinguishes the flames,
leaving seeds unburned .
Tree without adventitious-bud root crown
Crown residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)
Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)
Gowen cypress is a fire-adapted, fire-dependent species [13,26]. It has
slightly fire-resistant bark and serotinous cones. Its low branching
habit makes it susceptible to crown fires [1,26]. The serotinous cones
of the California cypress species persist on trees for years [13,28].
Cone opening is erratic and almost negligible except when cones are
exposed to extreme heat; then it is rapid and uniform [16,28]. When
opened by the heat of a fire, the seeds fall on exposed mineral soil
[13,27]. Most seed falls in the first few months following fire .
Fires that occur in late summer and fall and are followed by winter
rains ensure seed dissemination on bare mineral substrates and moist
conditions for germination . Successful cypress reproduction is
generally restricted to burned sites . No information was available
on fire-free intervals for communities dominated by Gowen cypress.
Tecate cypress (Hesperocyparis forbesii), however, a
cypress found in southern California, has an average interval between
fires of 25 years, ranging from 15 to 63 years [1,26]. Cypress trees of
southern California generally reach cone-bearing age before another fire
Facultative Seral Species
Site requirements for cypress seedlings are typical of those for pioneer
conifers. Seedlings are shade intolerant and survive best in full
sunlight on bare mineral soil [1,26]. According to Armstrong ,
cypress trees of southern California are very sensitive to lack of
light, losing their foliage when growing in shade.
Gowen cypress reproduces exclusively from seed. Mendocino cypress cone
production is abundant on dwarfed and mature trees, but is rare or
absent on young vigorous trees . Staminate cones are usually first
produced when trees are 6 to 7 years old, but have developed on 1- and
2-year-old seedlings of Mendocino cypress and Gowen cypress, respectively [8,27].
Ovulate cones are produced on trees that are 4 years of age or older. The
cones require 2 years to mature [1,27], and contain from 90 to 130 seeds [8,27].
The cones of California cypress are closed; they persist on the tree until
opened by the heat of a fire or from desiccation due to age [8,26].
Seeds are shed gradually over several months after the cones open .
Detached cones will open, but they rarely result in seedling
establishment, usually due to lack of a suitable seedbed . Seed
dispersal is primarily by wind and rain .
Gowen cypress germination rates range from 23 to 53 percent . Seeds
require bare mineral soil for germination and establishment. Seedling
mortality is high on shaded sites with abundant litter because of
damping-off fungi [1,26]. Seedlings are sensitive to excessive moisture
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Life History and Behavior
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Hesperocyparis goveniana
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Hesperocyparis goveniana
Public Records: 4
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Callitropsis goveniana
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1998Vulnerable (VU)
- 1998Endangered (E)
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N2 - Imperiled
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G2 - Imperiled
Reasons: Endemic to California, Cupressus goveniana occurs across a very narrow range as two subspecies, ssp. goveniana and ssp. pigmaea. There are 26 recent (1980's) occurrences that are presumed extant, plus seven historic and one extirpated. Threats to this species are development, vehicle use, recreational activity, and competition with non-native plants.
plant: rare in California.
U.S. Federal Legal Status
Comments: Development, vehicles, altered fire regimes, competition with non-native plants.
Biological Research Needs: Research optimum management for this taxon.
Fire followed by intensive grazing could eliminate a cypress grove .
Gowen cypress grows best on the coast. Although waterlogged soils may
result in dwarfed trees, Gowen cypress could be safely used for low
hedges and windbreaks because of its dense growth habit [26,27].
Gowen cypress seedlings are susceptible to damping-off fungi . Both
subspecies are highly susceptible to coryneum canker (Coryneum
cardinale), which can kill trees . Fungicides are effective in
preventing the spread of the disease but cannot eradicate it once
infection has begun .
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
undesirable forage for livestock, although young plants are occasionally
Wood Products Value
Cypress (Hesperocyparis spp.) wood is generally durable and stable. It is
suitable for a wide range of exterior uses including joinery, shingles,
and boats. Possible interior uses include moulding and panelling .
Cypress shelterbelts provide good firewood. Most cypress species
develop a large proportion of heartwood, which splits well, dries
quickly, and is clean burning. Cypress wood is moderately fast burning
because of its medium density. As cypress woods are prone to sparking,
they are recommended only for enclosed fires .
It is an evergreen tree with a conic to ovoid-conic crown, very variable in size, with mature trees of under 1 m (3 ft 3 in) on some sites, to 50 m (160 ft) tall in ideal conditions. The foliage grows in dense sprays, dark green to somewhat yellow-green in color. The leaves are scale-like, 2–5 mm (0.08–0.20 in) long, and produced on rounded (not flattened) shoots. The seed cones are globose to oblong, 11–22 mm (0.43–0.87 in) long, with 6 to 10 scales, green at first, maturing brown or gray-brown about 20–24 months after pollination. The cones remain closed for many years, only opening after the parent tree is killed in a wildfire, thereby allowing the seeds to colonize the bare ground exposed by the fire. The male cones are 3–5 mm (0.12–0.20 in) long, and release pollen in February/March; typically, cones of C. goveniana are smaller than those of C. macrocarpa.
There are two or three varieties, treated as distinct species by some botanists:
- Cupressus goveniana var. goveniana – Gowen cypress (vulnerable)
- Monterey County, strictly coastal, within 3 km (1.9 mi) of the coast and below 200 m (660 ft) altitude. Foliage dark green, not rough, with leaf tips not spreading; cones globose.
- Cupressus goveniana var. pigmaea (C. pigmaea) – Mendocino cypress (vulnerable)
- Mendocino and Sonoma counties, coastal, within 10 km (6.2 mi) of the coast and below 500 m (1,600 ft) altitude. Doubtfully distinguishable from var. goveniana, with very similar foliage and cones. More modern taxonomic thinking classifies Mendocino Cypress as a separate species Cupressus pigmaea, and not a variety of C. goveniana.
- Cupressus goveniana var. abramsiana (Cupressus abramsiana) – Santa Cruz cypress (endangered)
- Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties, in the Santa Cruz Mountains 10–20 km (6.2–12.4 mi) inland and at 300–760 m (980–2,490 ft) altitude. More distinct, and could well be a valid species, with yellow–green foliage slightly rough-textured from the acute and slightly spreading leaf tips; cones often oval. It also shows similarities to Cupressus sargentii.
Names and Taxonomy
Cupressus goveniana Gord. [1,5,12,13,35]
Cupressus goveniana ssp. goveniana Gord., Gowen cypress
Cupressus goveniana ssp. pygmaea (Lemm.) Bartel, Mendocino or pygmy cypress [5,30]
Cupressus pygmaea (Lemmon) Sarg. 
Neocupressus goveniana (Gordon) de Laub. 
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