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Mature ornamental tree in Joquicingo, N of Malinalco [C.J. Earle, 2005.02.12].

Photo

Partly opened cone from an ornamental in Amecameca, on the slopes of Popocatepetl [C.J. Earle, 2005.02.08].

 

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Conservation status

Cupressus lusitanica

Miller 1768

Common names

Mexican cypress, cedar of Goa, cedro blanco, cedro blanco del desierto, cedro, ciprés (Farjon 2005).

Taxonomic notes

Synonymy:

See the "Taxonomic notes" section of Cupressus for a discussion of the relationship between this and other, closely related Cupressus taxa in northwest Mexico and the adjacent Southwest U.S. Briefly, there is considerable doubt whether the populations of Cupressus scattered from Sonora to Chiapas have been studied well enough to conclude that all can be assigned to the existing described species. Farjon (1993) analysed the problem and concluded that all specimens from south of about 22° latitude can be assigned to one of two taxa, which he called C. lusitanica var. lusitanica and C. lusitanica var. benthamii, and which I here treat as C. lusitanica and C. benthamii. An analysis by Little (2006) also found differences between the two taxa on the basis of several different molecular genetic lines of evidence; however, the differences were very small.

There has long been debate about whether this taxon is indeed "Mexican." It has particularly rankled some Mexican and Central American botanists that Miller described the species from Portuguese material. However, there is strong evidence that the trees in question, which were planted in 1634 at Bussaco near Coimbra in Portugal, were in fact brought there from Mexico or Central America; indeed, there is no other New World source for Cupressus at such an early date. Farjon (1993) summarizes the available evidence and I am satisfied that he has made his case; for this reason I accept his reduction of C. lindleyi to synonymy.

Description

Trees 25-30 m tall. Crown broadly pyramidal, in older trees broad with pendulous branches. Bark thick, reddish-brown, with longitudinal fissures. Shoots quadrangular, pendulous, forming flattened foliage sprays. Foliage blue-green, four-ranked, ovate, closely pressed, usually with long, pointed apex. Cones globose, ca. 12 mm across, blue-green in the juvenile stage, turning dark brown when they ripen, then open and later fall, composed of 6-8 scales with a central strong, reflexed umbo, erect on the upper scales. Seeds about 75 to a cone, brown, with resin glands, about 4 mm long together with a narrow wing (Farjon 1993, Vidakovic 1991).

The easiest way to distinguish this species from Cupressus benthamii is that the latter species does not have flattened sprays of foliage, and the crown is pyramidal rather than broad (Farjon 1993).

Distribution and Ecology

Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico: Aguascalientes, Chiapas, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Colima?, Distrito Federal, Durango, Hidalgo, Jalisco, México, Michoacán, Morelos, Nayarit?, Oaxaca, Puebla, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa, Sonora?, Tamaulipas, Tlaxcala?, Veracruz, Yucatan?, and Zacatecas? Occurs at altitudes of (450?-)1500-3500(-3990) m (Farjon 2005 and material from MEXU). It is widely introduced in Costa Rica (Merello 2004) and Nicaragua (Zanoni 2001). It often forms pure stands, or may be scottered in mixed stands of mixed conifer, pine, pine-oak, or mixed woodland composition. Common associates include Abies spp., Pinus ayacahuite, P. hartwegii, P. maximinoi, P. montezumae, P. patula, P. pseudostrobus, Pseudotsuga lindleyana, Juniperus spp., Quercus spp., Alnus spp., Clethra sp., and Persea sp. with ericaceous or theaceous shrubs. Typically on nutrient-poor carbonate or volcanic soils, often on rocky slopes or canyon cliffs (Farjon 2005).

Big tree

Some trees in the mountains of Guatemala exceed 6 ft dbh and are nearly 200 ft tall (F. Callahan email 2010.09.17).

Oldest

Dendrochronology

Have found no information. Dobry and Kyncl (1992), studying Cupressus lindleyi, concluded that its "irregular wood formation" prevented dating of its growth rings.

Ethnobotany

This is commercially harvested as a timber tree in both Mexico and Guatemala and produces a fine, straight-grained lumber (F. Callahan email 2010.09.17). "In Costa Rica, Cupressus lusitanica is the most popular Christmas tree. It also is very popular in the city parks and is often used as a living fence because of the very dense branches it develops" (Rafael Acuña e-mail 2006.11.01).

Zone 9 (cold hardiness limit between -6.6°C and -1.1°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001).

Cupressus lusitanica was one of the first New World conifers to be brought home to Europe, having been planted in Portugal since 1634 and in England since 1682 (but see Thuja occidentalis). It has since become the most horticulturally important of the tropical cypresses, widely introduced in South America, Africa, Asia and elsewhere. Today it is grown in some parts of Africa as a forest tree (Vidakovic 1991, Farjon 2005).

Observations

It is a widely planted ornamental in Mexico. It grows as a significant component of the montane forest on the west slopes of Popocatepetl, mostly with Abies religiosa, where it can be seen in many places along the road up the mountain from Amecameca. Vladimir Dinets (e-mail 1999.08.11) reports that a small grove can be seen 1.6 km south of the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border, on the eastern side of the Pan American Highway.

Remarks

"The [Latin] name derives from the fact that the species was introduced to Lusitania, Portugal, in the 17th century" (Vidakovic 1991). It was so described in 1700 by Tournefort, and chosen as specific epithet by Miller when the species was formally described in 1768. Miller did not know the plant's country of origin and guessed that it might have come from Goa (in India), an error repeated in several important early conifer compilations, thereby firmly establishing the name "Cedar of Goa" in the horticultural trade (Farjon 1993).

Citations

Dobry, J. and J. Kyncl. 1992. Tree-ring density profiles in Cupressaceae. P.83-84 in T.S. Bartholin, B.E. Berglund, D. Eckstein, F.H. Schweingruber, and O. Eggertsson, eds., Tree Rings and Environment: Proceedings of the International Symposium, Ystad, South Sweden, 3-9 September 1990. Lundqua Report 34. Lund University Department of Quaternary Geology.

Farjon, Aljos. 1993. Nomenclature of the Mexican cypress or "cedar of Goa", Cupressus lusitanica Mill. (Cupressaceae). Taxon 42: 81-84.

Merello, M. 2004. Zamiaceae. In: Hammel, B.E., M.H. Grayum, C. Herrera and N. Zamora (eds.). Manual de Plantas de Costa Rica. Monogr. Syst. Bot. Missouri Bot. Gard. 92.

Zanoni, T. 2001. Zamiaceae. In: Stevens, W.D., C. Ulloa, A. Pool and O.M. Montiel (eds.). Flora de Nicaragua Monogr. Syst. Bot. Missouri Bot. Gard. 85.

See also

Farjon (2005) provides a detailed account, with illustrations.

Martínez, M. 1947. Los Cupressos de Mexico. Anal. Inst. Biol. Mexico 18: 71-149.

Styles, B.T. and C.E. Hughes. 1983: Studies of variation in Central American pines III. Notes on the taxonomy and nomenclature of the pines and related gymnosperms in Honduras and adjacent Latin America republics. Brenesia 21: 269-291.

Last Modified 2012-11-30