Above: a Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) in the Del Monte forest, California. This species of
cypress is native only to two small regions: the Del Monte Forest and Carmel, both near to Monterey, on
the central coast of California. It has been imported to New Zealand, where it has naturalised and is
known as macrocarpa. It is also one parent with the widely planted Leyland cypress (X Cupressocyparis
leylandii, which is a cross between the Monterey cypress and the Nootka cypress, Chamaecyparis
nootkatensis). Click the photos to enlarge.
These trees are medium-sized, reaching 10-20 metres in height and o.6 metres (occasionally over 1
metre) in diameter (though in cultivation in more milder habitats they may grow larger, up to 40 metres
tall and 3 metres in diameter).
Above: top - the famous Lone Cypress - growing alone on a seaward limb of rock. (Click images to
enlarge). The foggy conditions deprived the photographic film of colour - the colour-enhanced version on
the right has little more colour than the black and white version on the left! This sums up this habitat -
exposed, grey and foggy. The form of the Monterey cypress is largely dictated by its rather harsh habitat.
These coastal habitats experience almost daily sea fog, cool humid summers and high salty winds. Despite
the humidity, the harsh salty winds frequently subject vegetation above ground to dry conditions (even if
the soil is damp). The salinity and high winds make this a dry and desiccating environment, but the
cypress, being a conifer, is pre-adapted for dry atmospheres - with its small scale-like leaves (with thick
waterproofing layers) that do not dry out as easily as the leaves of a broad-leaved tree.
The canopy of the Monterey cypress tends to be irregular and flat-topped. Conifers that grow in high
altitudes and latitudes tend to be pyramidal - their sloping branches shed snow easily (which could
damage the leaves both by freezing and by shear weight and would also block the light needed for
photosynthesis) but in dry climates they tend to develop a flat-topped umbrella shape (e.g. the
Mediterranean stone pine, Pinus pinea) which resists drying winds - the canopy is shaped like an aerofoil
(wing) causing the air to flow around it and allowing most leaves to shelter behind one another. (In hot
climates such a canopy shape also helps cooling as wind is free to blow upwards through the canopy). The
Monterey cypress has a similar aerofoil shape, no so much because of heat (it seemed quite cool here
because of the exposed coastal position and the Monterey cypress is frost tolerant), but because of the
dry salty winds. The canopy of the Monterey cypress is also rather irregular - a response to the wind which
easily breaks weak or exposed branches. It is probable that the tree also actively grows in such a way to
shelter itself from the wind as much as possible. The aerofoil canopy, certainly presents little surface to the
winds, reducing drying and water loss, whilst presenting a full front to the overhead sun.
These trees had a rather character about them, as did the place as a whole (the eeriness is broken only
by the many tourists passing through). One dead cypress, called the ghost tree, still stands as a
fantastically shaped sun-bleached white form (though I saw this tree I wasn't able to get a snap of it). Even
the living trees are a ghostly-pale grey colour and frequently twisted into odd shapes by the wind. (They all
reminded me of ghosts).
The female cones are globular or oblong, 20-40 mm in length and have 6-14 scales. The male cones are
3-5 mm long. This tree is an evergreen conifer. This tree is planted all over the world as an ornamental.
The original Leyland cypress hybrid occurred at Leighton Park, Wales in 1888 - both parents were growing
next to one another (in there native North American habitats they are 300 miles or more apart). The
Leyland cypress shows the phenomenon of hybrid vigour and grows rapidly, up to 35 metres in height, and
is now widespread in urban Britain. The tallest are still young, only 119 years old and are still growing
strongly, so nobody knows how tall they will grow to be! They have the potential to be very tall indeed!