1902 Encyclopedia > Cypress


CYPRESS (Cupressus), a genus of the sub-order Gupressinece, natural order Coniferce or Pinacece, represented by evergreen aromatic trees and shrubs indigenous to the south of Europe, the East Indies, China, California, Mexico, Guatemala, and North America. 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 6 to 10 peltate woody scales, which terminate 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. G. sempervirens, Linn., the common cypress, is a native of the Levant and Persia. 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 1 and 1J inches in diameter, sessile, and generally in pairs, and are made up of large angular scales, slightly convex exteriorly, and mucronate in the centre. In Britain the tree grows to a height of 40 feet, in its native soil to 70 or 90 feet. In 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 1 and 1J feet 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 wine-presses, 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 1100 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 servanda 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 beauti-ful youth beloved by Apollo, was transformed, that he might grieve to all time (Ovid, Met., x. iii.). 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. 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 Csesar; it is about 121 feet in height, and 23 feet 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, k found everywhere in the dry hollows and high eastern slopes of Corfu, of the scenery of which it is characteristic. Its superior luxuriance in that island is attributed by Professor Ansted to the calcareous nature of the soil. As an ornamental tree in Britain the cypress is useful to break the outline formed by round-headed low shrubs and trees. The berosh, or beroth, of the Hebrew Scriptures, translated "fir" in the authorized version, in 1 Kings v. 8 and vi. 15, 2 Chron. ii. 8, and many other passages, is supposed to signify the cypress, which, according to Pococke, is the only tree that grows towards the summit of Lebanon. The common or tall variety of C. sempervirens is known as 0. fastigiata; the other variety, G. horizontalis, which is little planted in England, is distinguished by its hori- zontally-spreading branches, and its likeness to the cedar, The species G. torulosa of North India, so called from its twisted bark, attains an altitude of 150 feet; 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 East Indian species, G. lusitanica, or glauca, the " Cedar of Goa," is a handsome tree, 50 feet 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. The species G. Lawsoniana, a native of the Shasta and Scott valleys in North California, where it attains a height of 100 feet, was introduced into Scotland in 1854 ; it is much grown for ornamental purposes in Britain. Other Californian cypresses are G. macrocarpa, which is 60 feet high when mature, and C. attenuata, C. Goveniana, and C. Macnabi- ana, shrubs varying from 6 to 10 feet in height. The Mexican species, O. Knightiana, grows to 120 feet. O. funebris is a native of the north of China, where it is planted near pagodas. C. Nutkaensis, the Nootka Sound cypress, was introduced into Britain in 1850. It is a hardy species, reaching a height of from 80 to 100 feet. See Gordon's Pinelum, 1875. (P. H. B.)

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