Cupressus arizonica Greene, Arizona cypress, is the only cypress native to the southwest. It is a medium sized tree 50 to 60 feet tall and 15 to 30 inches in diameter. It is evergreen, with a dense, upright, cone-shaped crown and smooth reddish-brown bark that sometimes becomes fibrous with flat ridges. Leaves are scale-like and grayish-green, bluish-green, or silvery, arranged opposite in pairs and tightly clasping the cord-like or four-sided twigs; they emit a fetid odor when crushed. The cones are 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter, somewhat round, dark reddish brown, with 6 to 8 shield-shaped woody scales. The cones mature in autumn of the second season but persist on the tree for many years.
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Distribution and adaptation
It is found naturally on dry, sterile, rocky mountain slopes and canyon walls, but does very well when planted on better soils or when irrigated. It requires a minimum of 10 to 12 inches of water annually. It is not recommended for elevations of over 3,000 feet nor is it recommended for soils with a high water table. It requires full sunlight for best development, but is subject to sunscald when grown as an ornamental. Though it grows slowly under natural dry conditions, it is a rapid grower (up to 3 feet per year) on better soils with a good moisture regime.
Arizona cypress is distributed throughout the Southwest. For a current distribution map, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Website.
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Usually grows in rocky or gravelly soils of canyon or ravines from 1,000-2,650 m (3,200-8,700 ft.) elev.
Habitat & Distribution
Arizona cypress is usually available as 1 year old potted stock. It should be planted in areas where there is at least 10 to 12 inches of water available annually either naturally or through irrigation. Early spring is the best time for planting. For windbreaks 6-foot spacing in rows is recommended. Open sunlight is required for best growth.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Hesperocyparis arizonica
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Hesperocyparis arizonica
Public Records: 4
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Cupressus arizonica
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
Reasons: Not threatened, but of limited range: grows in northern Baja California, s.e. Arizona, s.w. New Mexico, north-central Mexico, and a small part of Texas.
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g. threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).
Pests and potential problems
Arizona cypress ordinarily has few disease pests, but when grown in areas of high humidity, incidence of disease increases. Principal enemies are mistletoes and rusts. The cypress bark beetle may be troublesome by mining twigs on ornamentals.
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
No cultivars are known, but Arizona cypress plants are available from most commercial conifer nurseries in the west.
Arizona cypress generally requires little maintenance. Deep watering at least every other week is necessary for desert planting during the growing season. Arizona cypress is especially susceptible to fire and needs proper protection.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Livestock: This tree can be harvested, processed, and used for fence posts because it is quite durable when seasoned.
Timber: Arizona cypress has little value when grown for timber but has been used for Christmas trees and for some hobby and craft items.
Erosion control: This tree has been used for windbreaks in desert areas.
Cupressus arizonica, the Arizona cypress, is a species of cypress native to the southwest of North America, Arizona, southwest New Mexico, southern California, the Chisos Mountains of west Texas, and in Mexico in Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas and northern Baja California. In the wild, the species is often found in small, scattered populations, not necessarily in large forests. An example occurrence is within the Sierra Juárez and San Pedro Mártir pine-oak forests of Mexico, where it is found along with Canyon Live Oak and California Fan Palm.
It is a medium-sized coniferous evergreen tree with a conic to ovoid-conic crown. It grows to heights of 10–25 m (32.8-82.0 ft), and its trunk diameter reaches 0.5 m (19.7 in). The foliage grows in dense sprays, varying from dull gray-green to bright glaucous blue-green in color. The leaves are scale-like, 2–5 mm long, and produced on rounded (not flattened) shoots. The seed cones are globose to oblong, 15–33 mm long, with 6 or 8 (rarely 4 or 10) scales, green at first, maturing gray 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 long, and release pollen in February–March.
There are five varieties, treated as distinct species by some botanists:
- Cupressus arizonica var. arizonica, Arizona Cypress - secure. Southern Arizona, southwest New Mexico, south to Durango and Tamaulipas, Chisos Mountains of west Texas.
- Cupressus arizonica var. glabra, Smooth Arizona Cypress - secure. Central Arizona.
- Cupressus arizonica var. montana (C. montana), San Pedro Martir Cypress - Vulnerable. Sierra Juárez and San Pedro Mártir pine-oak forests of Northern Baja California.
- Cupressus arizonica var. nevadensis (C. nevadensis), Piute Cypress - Least Concern. Southern California (Kern County and Tulare County).
- Cupressus arizonica var. stephensonii, Cuyamaca Cypress - Critically endangered. Southern California (San Diego County). Most of this population was burnt in the October 2003 Cedar Fire, though (as expected for a fire-climax species) subsequent regeneration has been good.
Arizona Cypress, particularly the strongly glaucous var. glabra, is widely cultivated as an ornamental tree. Unlike Monterey Cypress, it has proved highly resistant to cypress canker, caused by the fungus Seiridium cardinale, and growth is reliable where this disease is prevalent.
- National Geographic. 2001
- "RHS Plant Selector - Cupressus arizonica 'Blue Ice'". Retrieved 20 July 2013.
- World Wildlife Fund (2001). "Sierra Juarez and Sierra Pedro Martir Pine-oak Forests". WildWorld Ecoregion Profile. National Geographic Society. Archived from the original on 2010-03-08.
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Names and Taxonomy
Comments: As treated by Kartesz (1994 checklist), the five varieties of Little's (1971) concept of Cupressus arizonica are considered distinct species, leaving the name Cupressus arizonica to apply only to Little's var. arizonica.