Cypress trees are coniferous evergreen trees that have foliage best described as scale-like. All types of cypress trees produce woody cones that contain their seeds. In the United States the handful of cypress tree species native to America all occur in the Far West. A related tree, the baldcypress, grows in the southeastern portion of the country and in Mexico.
The Monterey cypress is a uniquely California cypress tree that occurs naturally in California’s Monterey Bay region. This cypress tree has very dark bluish-green foliage, and the cones can reach 1.5 inches across. The Monterey cypress achieves a maximum height of 70 feet but is normally much shorter. The scaly and ridged bark of this tree is dark brown to a lighter shade of gray. Due to the high winds that affect its growth, the Monterey cypress often finds itself misshapen, with older specimens having a flat and broad crown supported by strong branches. The Monterey cypress is popular as an ornamental tree and used for windbreaks.
The cones of the Gowen cypress are less than an inch in diameter and the foliage is dark green. The tree features red-brown ridged bark, and the tallest Gowen cypress trees will reach 25 feet, with many examples looking more like large shrubs. Typically found in drier alkaline soil, the Gowen cypress grows along the coast of California.
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The Macnab cypress has foliage that is a light hue of green. The smallish cones, about half an inch wide, have hornlike projections on the scales that cover them. There is usually a purplish sheen to the red-brown bark of the Macnab cypress. While some can grow to 40 feet, the tree more often than not is shrublike in nature. The Macnab grows in Northern California while the very similar Modoc cypress exists a little further north into Oregon.
The Arizona cypress, found mostly in Arizona but with some pockets of trees growing in Southern California and western Texas, has grayish-green foliage. Once the tree matures, the bark turns brown and fibrous. Some trees that have the benefit of good soil and protection from the wind can grow 60 feet tall. The crown of the Arizona cypress is dense with branches and foliage and shaped like a cone. It is popular as a Christmas and landscaping tree.
The baldcypress is the largest tree that grows east of the Mississippi River, with many over 120 feet. Technically this is not a type of cypress tree; its relatives are the redwoods and sequoias. Baldcypress trees often grow in swamps in the Deep South with Spanish moss draped on their branches. The tree can thrive in water, with its roots producing what botanists call woody “knees,” which rise out of the surrounding water around the tree and may exceed several feet in height. The Montezuma baldcypress of Mexico needs wet soil to grow, and estimates place some at thousands of years old.