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Latin Name: Cupressus sempervirens
Country of Origin: Persia/Syria
Height: 20 to 25m
Uses: Windbreak, furniture/coffin making, essential oil production and decorative use.
One cannot think of Tuscany without thinking of the magnificent cypress tree, so quintessential and symbolic of the Tuscan landscape that it has adopted the name of "The Tuscan Cypress tree." Although this is a somewhat fitting name, it is however grossly incorrect as its real place of origin was almost certainly Persia or Syria and was brought to the Tuscan area by the mysterious Etruscan tribes-people many thousands of years ago who considered the plant to have mystical/supernatural connections. It is a tree that can survive for up to 2,000 years or more, and while the other deciduous trees would lose their leaves in the winter, the cypress trees retained theirs- rendering it supernatural in the eyes of the early tribes-people.
To such an extent was this supernatural connotation that the Etruscans chose to plant the tree around their sacred Necropolis (burial grounds). They believed that the supernatural powers and strong, fragrant essential oils could ward off demons and even the smell of death itself, thus ensuring a safe passage into the afterlife. The fragrant wood of the cypress tree, being rich in resinous essential oils takes many years to decompose, rendering it ideal for coffins and sarcophagi. In fact, the wood is so strongly scented that the tree was planted around the houses, churches and cemeteries in Tuscany as people believed that the air was "freshened" by the tree, giving rise to the quintessential "Tuscan landscape" that we hold as being typical of the area.
This wonderful mysterious tree has unfortunately been suffering from a terrible and fatal canker that has put it under threat of extinction in recent years. However, for once genetic engineering has been useful in saving the species from extinction by having provided a new variety named 'Bolgheri' that is resistant to the disease and offers some hope for one of the most treasured of all of Europe's trees.
CYPRESS CULTIVATION: Prefers a sunny position with free-draining soil but will tolerate shade and even the thick, heavy Tuscan clay. They prefer a trim in the early spring to maintain their shape and prevent the branches from being opened up and split by the heavy winter snowfalls. A good organic mulch such as animal manure or hay laid around the base of the plant at planting will ensure that the plant gets a healthy start. Regular feeding will ensure rapid growth.
CYPRESS USES IN THE GARDEN: The cypress tree offers the gardener an incredible vertical, visual statement, unrivalled by any other that will invite the human eye to change direction, creating interest and, not to mention, a Mediterranean feel wherever it is planted.
It provides an ideal visual block to hide unsightly objects/views and provides a useful windbreak on exposed sites and can even be used to frame interesting views, giving added importance to a view across a valley etc. All in all- an excellent tree for any garden, or for any street.