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Cypress

CYPRESS (Cupressus), in botany, a genus of fifteen species belonging to the tribe Cupressineae, natural order Coniferae, represented by evergreen aromatic trees and shrubs indigenous to the south of Europe, western Asia, the Himalayas, China, Japan, north-western and north-eastern America, California and Mexico. The leaves of the cypresses are scale-like, overlapping and generally in four rows; the female catkins are roundish, and fewer than the male; the cones consist of from six to ten peltate woody scales, which end in a curved point, and open when the seeds are ripe; the seeds are numerous and winged. All the species exude resin, but no turpentine.

C. sempeniirens, the common cypress, has been well known throughout the Mediterranean region since classic times; it may have been introduced from western Asia where it is found wild. It is a tapering, flame-shaped tree resembling the Lombardy poplar; its branches are thickly covered with small, imbricated, shining-green leaves; the male catkins are about 3 lines in length; the cones are between i and 15 in. in diameter, sessile, and generally in pairs, and are made up of large angular scales, slightly convex exteriorly, and with a sharp point in the centre. In Britain the tree grows to a height of 40 ft., in its native soil to .70 or 90 ft. It thrives best on a dry, deep, sandy loam, on airy sheltered sites at no great elevation above the sea. It was introduced into Great Britain before the middle of the 16th century. In the climate of the south of England its rate of growth when young is between i and ii ft. a year. The seeds are sown in April, and come up in three or four weeks; the plants require protection from frost during their first winter.

The timber of the cypress is hard, close-grained, of a fine reddish hue, and very durable. Among the ancients it was in request for poles, rafters, joists, and for the construction of winepresses, tables and musical instruments; and on that account was so valuable that a plantation of cypresses was considered a sufficient dowry for a daughter. Owing to its durability the wood was employed for mummy cases, and images of the gods; a statue of Jupiter carved out of cypress is stated by Pliny to have existed 600 years without showing signs of decay. The cypress doors of the ancient St Peter's at Rome, when removed by Eugenius IV., were about 1 100 years old, but nevertheless in a state of perfect preservation. Laws were engraved on cypress by the ancients, and objects of value were preserved in receptacles made of it; thus Horace speaks of poems levi semanda cupresso. The cypress, which grows no more when once cut down, was regarded as a symbol of the dead, and perhaps for that reason was sacred to Pluto; its branches were placed by the Greeks and Romans on the funeral pyres and in the houses of their departed friends. Its supposed ill-boding nature is alluded to in Shakespeare's Henry VI., where Suffolk desires for his enemies " their sweetest shade, a grove of cypress trees." The cypress was the tree into which Cyparissus, a beautiful youth beloved by Apollo, was transformed, that he might grieve to all time (Ovid, Met. x. 3). In Turkish cemeteries the cypress " Dark tree, still sad when others' grief is fled, The only constant mourner o'er the dead "

is the most striking feature, the rule being to plant one for each interment. The tree grows straight, or nearly so, and has a gloomy and forbidding, but wonderfully stately aspect. With advancing age its foliage becomes of a dark, almost black hue. William Gilpin calls the cypress an architectural tree: " No Italian scene," says he, " is perfect without its tall spiral form, appearing as if it were but a part of the picturesquely disposed edifices which rise from the middle ground against the distant landscape." The cypress of Somma, in Lombardy, is believed to have been in existence in the time of Julius Caesar; it is about 121 ft. in height, and 23 ft. in circumference. Napoleon, in making the road over the Simplon, deviated from the straight line in order to leave it standing. The cypress, as the olive, is found everywhere in the dry hollows and high eastern slopes of Corfu, of the scenery of which it is characteristic. As an ornamental tree in Britain the cypress is useful to break the outline formed by roundheaded low shrubs and trees. The berosh, or beroth, of the Hebrew Scriptures, translated " fir " in the authorized version, in i Kings v. 8 and vi. 15, 2 Chron. ii. 8 and many other passages, is supposed to signify the cypress.

The common or tall variety of C. sempervirens is known as C. fastigiata; the other variety, C. horizontalis, which is little planted in England, is distinguished by its horizontally spreading branches, and its likeness to the cedar. The species C. torulosa of North India, so called from its twisted bark, attains an altitude of 150 ft.; its branches are erect or ascending, and grow so as to form a perfect cone. In the Kulu and Ladakh country the tree is sacred to the deities of the elements. It has been introduced into England, but does not thrive where the winter is severe. The wood, which in Indian temples is burnt as incense, is yellowish-red, close-grained, tough, hard, readily worked, durable, and equal in quality to that of the deodar. Another species, C. lusitanica or glauca, the " cedar of Goa," is a handsome tree, 50 ft. in height when full-grown, with spreading branches drooping at their extremities; it has been much planted in Portugal, especially in the neighbourhood of Cintra. Its origin is doubtful. It was well established in Portugal before the middle of the i;th century, and has since been cultivated generally in the south of Europe, but is nowhere believed to be indigenous. The name " cedar of Goa " is misleading, as no cypress is found wild anywhere near Goa. It was cultivated in England in the 17th century, and the name C. lusitanica was given by Philip Miller, the curator of the Chelsea Physick garden, in 1768, in reference to its supposed Portuguese origin. Experience has shown this cypress to be too tender for British climate generally, though good specimens are to be found in the milder climate of the south and west of England and in Ireland.

The species G. Laiasoniana, the Port Orford cedar, a native of south Oregon and north California, where it attains a height of 100 ft., was introduced into Scotland in 1854; it is much grown for ornamental purposes in Britain, a large number of varieties of garden origin being distinguished by differences in habit and by colour of foliage. Other Californian cypresses are C. macrocarpa, the Monterey cypress, which is 60 ft. high when mature, with a habit suggesting that of cedar of Lebanon, and C. Joveniana and C. Macnabiana, smaller trees generally from 20 to 30 ft. in height. C. funebris is a native of the north of China, where it is planted near pagodas. C. nootkaensis, the Nootka Sound cypress or Alaska cedar, was introduced into Britain in 1850. It is a hardy species, reaching a height of from 80 to 100 ft. Several varieties are distinguished by habit and colour of foliage. C. obtusa, a native of Japan, is a tall tree reaching 100 ft. in height, and widely planted by the Japanese for its timber, which is one of the best for interior construction. It is also cultivated by them as a decorative plant, in many forms, including dwarf forms not exceeding a foot in height.

The "deciduous cypress," "swamp cypress" or "bald cypress," Taxodium distichum, is another member of the order Coniferae (tribe Taxodineae), a native of the southern United States and Mexico. It is a lofty tree reaching a height of 170 ft. or more, with a massive trunk 10 to 15 ft. or more in diameter, growing in or near water or on low-lying land which is subject to periodical flooding. The lower part of the trunk bears huge buttresses, each of which ends in a long branching far-spreading root, from the branches of which spring the peculiar knees which rise above the level of the water. The knees are of a soft spongy texture and act as breathing organs, supplying the roots with air, which they would otherwise be unable to obtain when submerged. The stout horizontally spreading branches give a cedar-like appearance; the foliage is light and feathery; the leaves and the slender shoots which bear them fall in the autumn. The cones, about the size of a small walnut, bear spirally arranged imbricated scales which subtend the three-angled winged seeds. The wood is light, soft, straight-grained and easily worked; it is very durable in contact with the soil, and is used for railway-ties, posts, fencing and for construction. The deciduous cypress was one of the first American trees introduced into England; it is described by John Parkinson in his Herbal of 1640. It thrives only near water or where the soil is permanently moist.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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