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Tree at Howick Hall Arboretum [C.J. Earle, 2010.06.20].


Bark on the above tree [C.J. Earle, 2010.06.20].


Foliage and seed cone on the above tree [C.J. Earle, 2010.06.20].


Cone-bearing branchlet with leaves and seed cones [Li Aili] (Fu et al. 1999).


Branchlet with leaves, and seed [Li Aili] (Fu et al. 1999).


The big tree at Bajie [Daniel Winkler 2007].


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Conservation status

Cupressus gigantea

W.C. Cheng et L.K. Fu 1975

Common names

巨柏 ju bai [Chinese]; Tsangpo River cypress.

Taxonomic notes

Syn.: Cupressus torulosa D. Don var. gigantea (W.C. Cheng et L.K.) Farjon 2005.

Foliar terpene contents of the five Chinese Cupressus species indicates that C. gigantea is most distinct of the group, but otherwise reveals no obvious chemotaxonomic groupings (Cool et al. 1998).

"Perhaps better treated as a variety of Cupressus torulosa, from which it differs mainly in its thicker ultimate branchlets, which are not drooping but spreading (xeromorphy), and in that some stands in SE Xizang contain very massive trees. However, some herbarium specimens of C. torulosa collected outside China in the W Himalayan region have similarly thick foliage, while another specimen from SE Xizang has ultimate branchlets only 0.8 mm wide" (Fu et al. 1999).


Trees usually 25 to 50 m tall and 100 to 600 cm dbh, at maturity. Crown irregularly conical to open. Bark fibrous, orange-brown, becaming dark brown and gray with narrow, thick, flat-topped ridges. Branchlets densely arranged, often glaucous, usually 4-angled, rarely terete, ultimate ones not drooping, 1.2-2 mm in diam. Leaves closely arranged, in 4 ranks, glaucous, scalelike, obtusely ridged or arched (gibbous) and with a rounded central abaxial gland. Seed cones usually glaucous, oblong-globose, 15-20 × 13-16 mm; approx. 12 cone scales, each fertile scale with numerous seeds; bracts with a prominent, large, free mucro at apex. 2n = 22 (Fu et al. 1999, Debreczy and Racz 2008).

Similar species include Cup. chengiana and Cup. torulosa. This species differs in having coarser, grey foliage, quadrangular branchlets, and larger cones (Debreczy and Racz 2008).

Distribution and Ecology

SE Tibet, in the Yarlung Zangbo (Tsangpo) River valley at 3,000-3,400 m elevation (Farjon 1998, Fu et al. 1999). It also grows in the Nyang and Nize River valleys (Debreczy and Racz 2011). See the Big Tree section for a Google Maps link where you can explore the distribution of groves along the valley. Hardy to Zone 8 (cold hardiness limit between -12.1°C and -6.7°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001).

Big tree

There is a very large tree in the town of Baji (or Bagyi, or Bajie), county of Nyingchi, Tibet that is widely celebrated as the largest specimen (see photo at left). It is usually called simply the Baji Cypress, but is also attributed as the God of Tree and the King Cypress (Wikipedia). It is said to have been planted thousands of years ago by the father of the Bon religion, and the grove is thus a sacred place (yet another case of trees having been saved from the axe for purely spiritual reasons). Its height is variously claimed as 46 to 56 m, its girth or diameter (I suspect that translations from the Chinese often confuse the two terms) as 446 to 1800 cm, and its age as 2,000 to 2,500 years (Dreams Travel 2008, PRC 2008, Wu and Puncog 2008). The age estimate is quite fanciful, as there are no data. It is the centerpiece of the Baji Giant Cypress Nature Reserve, which includes a substantial area (hundreds of trees, over 6,000 ha) of these trees, many of which are very large. The published information does not disclose any systematic efforts to measure these trees, so it is possible that larger or taller specimens remain undescribed.

The tree is located at 94.403° E, 29.622° N. Click HERE to open a window in Google Maps showing this tree. Or, right-click HERE and choose "save as.." for a KML file you can view in Google Earth (includes ground-level photos and other links). For both views, if you zoom out and explore a bit up and down the valley, you can see that there are numerous other scattered groves of large trees.



Has been used in climate reconstructions (Wu 1992).




Called an endangered species by Fu et al. (1999).


Cheng, W.C. and L.K. Fu. 1975. Acta Phytotax. Sin. 13:85.

Cool, L.G., Z.L. Hu and E. Zavarin. 1998. Foliage terpenoids of Chinese Cupressus species. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 26(8): 899-913.

Debreczy and Racz. 2011. Conifers Around The World. Dendropress.

Dreams Travel. 2008. Gigantic Cypress Wood,Cypress park,Cypress kingdom,Garden of Cypess., accessed 2008.04.10.

Embassy of the People's Republic of China in India (PRC). 2008. Huge Cypress Forest in Nyingchi., accessed 2008.04.10.

Wu Xiangding. 1992. Dendroclimatic studies in China. P.432-445 in R.S. Bradley and P.D. Jones, eds., Climate Since A.D. 1500. London: Routledge Press.

Wu Yi and Soinam Puncog. 2008. Four Nature Reserves In Nyingchi., accessed 2008.04.10.

See also

Cheng, W.C. and L.K. Fu. in W. C. Cheng et al. 1975. Acta Phytotaxonomica Sinica 13(4): 85.

Farjon (2005) (as Cupressus torulosa var. gigantea).

Last Modified 2014-03-29