The Gymnosperm Database


Fruits on a tree in habitat growing in Mut, Turkey [Leo Goudzwaard, 2007].


A fastigiate form tree in La Gavotte (near Marseille), France [Franck Miguel, 2017.07].


An adjacent horizontal form tree in La Gavotte (near Marseille), France [Franck Miguel, 2017.07].


Foliage on an ornamental, Seattle arboretum [C.J. Earle].


Distribution of C. sempervirens within Europe. Half-black dots indicate uncertain status. Asian and African distribution not shown on this map (Atlas Florae Europaeae 1998).


This species is a popular ornamental, with many cultivars available; this is "stricta" [C.J. Earle, 2009.12.06, at the Los Angeles Arboretum].


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Conservation status

Cupressus sempervirens

Linnaeus 1753, p. 1002

Common names

Mediterranean cypress, common cypress, Italian cypress.

Taxonomic notes

Synonymy (Farjon 2005):

Many authors have recognized that the species broadly assumes two growth habits, fastigiate or horizontal, and have assigned subspecific taxonomic ranks on that basis. It is widely thought that only the horizontal form predates human activity, with the fastigiate form having a horticultural origin dating to early historic or prehistoric times. Thus it is a cultivar, not a variety or subspecies. There is also some question as to whether the fastigiate form is strictly heritable; it appears that "horizontal" specimens may arise from "fastigiate" stock (Stankov 1999, Farjon 2005).


"A tree 20-30 m in height. Trunk straight. Bark thin, smooth and gray for quite a long time, later becoming gray-brown and longitudinally furrowed. Shoots radiating in all directions, about 1 mm in diameter, round or quadrangular. Leaves scale-like, decussate, small, ovate, obtuse, dark green, with a dorsal gland in the shape of longitudinal furrow. Flowers appear early in spring. Cones on short stalk, glossy, brown to gray, pendulous, globose to elliptic, 2-3 cm long, composed of 8 to 14 opposite scales, with concave to flat apophysis, with a small central umbo and a point. Seeds 8-20 to each fertile scale, brown, flattened, minute, without resin blisters, narrowly winged. Cotyledons usually 2" (Vidakovic 1991).

Cones begin to open in September. After shedding the seeds, the cone persists on the tree for several years because, as with many species of Cupressus, C. sempervirens displays varying levels of serotiny: cones may remain unopened on the tree for many years until a fire induces them to open and subsequently to shed viable seed (Vidakovic 1991).

Distribution and Ecology

Due to the long horticultural history of this species in the Mediterranean region, its original native distribution is unclear; perhaps the question is pointless, as widespread human alteration of natural environments in the region has occurred across a time span featuring substantial climate changes. Various authorities attribute its native distribution to Greece (some Aegaean islands), Turkey, Crete, N Iran, Lebanon, and Syria; and perhaps Cyprus (which would only be appropriate). In N Africa, it may be native to Tunisia and N Libya. Currently, it can be found growing in cultivation or locally naturalized throughout the entire Mediterranean region (Vidakovic 1991, Dinets 1998, Stankov 1999).

It is tolerant to temperatures as low as -20°C (Tucovic 1956, Raddi and Panconesi 1989), but Bannister and Neuner (2001) rate it hardy to Zone 7 (cold hardiness limit between -17.7°C and -12.2°C). "This species is also tolerant to drought, air currents, wind dust, sleet and atmospheric gases. Its root system is well developed. It succeeds on acid and alkaline soils" (Vidakovic 1991).

Big tree

The largest reported specimens within the species' native range can be found in the Lefka Ori (Greek for White Mountains) of Western Crete. In the National Park "Samaria Gorge" trees grow to approximately 30-33 m high and 1 m dbh. These trees may have been planted in ancient times. In native stands a big tree would be some 20-25 m tall and 50 cm dbh (Stankov 1999). The largest trees are probably old horticultural specimens that have received ample water and nutrients. For example, a dbh of 182 cm and height of 15 m are reported for a tree in Campestri, Tuscany (Corpo Forestale Della Stato, a listing of big trees in Italy), and another Tuscan tree (Firenze, FI: Villa della Petraia) has been measured at 30 m tall and 172 cm dbh (Stankov 1999). Similarly, the tallest specimens appear to be in cultivation; a tree 38.1 m tall has been measured at the Casa de Labrador in Aranjuez, Spain (Árboles Singulares de Madrid 2013).


"The species attains up to 1000 years of age" (Vidakovic 1991).


In Italy, its use has been explored for both archeological dating and dendroclimatic reconstruction (Corona 1970). It has frequently been used in archeological dating in Israel (e.g., Liphschitz et al. 1981).


A common ornamental, planted around the world. The "[w]ood is durable and easily worked" (Vidakovic 1991), and the species has been planted for timber production, particularly in South America, Africa, and New Zealand (Stankov 1999).


See Big tree, above. Can also be seen in nearly any subtropical or temperate arboretum.


The epithet sempervirens means "always green." This epithet has only been applied to three conifers, indicating that conifer taxonomists are more imaginative than they are usually given credit for.

"A full crop of seed occurs every year. Germination energy is high and germination lasts for several years. Due to aromatic oils, the seeds are fragrant, especially when crushed. In 1 kg there are up to 150,000 seeds... Fast-growing when young, it begins producing seed in its tenth year. In addition to seeds, it may be propagated by grafting, cuttings and coppice shoots" (Vidakovic 1991).


Árboles Singulares de Madrid. 2013.06.23. Blog entry at, accessed 2016.11.05.

Atlas Florae Europaeae. 1998. Computer program available for download at URL=, accessed 2009.04.17.

Corona, E. 1970. Valore dendrocronologico del cipresso sempreverde. [The value of Cupressus semperivens for dendrochronology.] Monti e Boschi 21(5): 21-25 [in Italian with English summary].

Dinets, Vladimir. E-mail, 1998.01.12.

Liphschitz, N., Lev-Yadun, S., Waisel, Y. 1981. Dendroarchaeological investigations in Israel (Masada). Israel Exploration Journal 31(3-4): 230-234.

Raddi, P. and A. Panconesi. 1989. Genetic variability of tolerance to cold in Cupressus sempervirens progenies. Silvae Genetica 38(5-6):168-172.

Stankov, Hristo Dimitrov. E-mail, 30-Jun-1999.

Tucovic, A. 1956. Cempres - Cupressus sempervirens L. u Beogradu. Sumarstvo 1-2: 45-52.

See also

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

Adams, R. P., T. Mataraci, S. Gucel, and J. A. Bartel. 2017. Comparison of leaf essential oils of fastigiate (strict) and horizontal forms of Cupressus sempervirens from Cyprus, Montenegro, Turkey, and United States. Phytologia 99(1): 48-53.

Last Modified 2017-12-29