cypress, common name for members of the Cupressaceae, a widely distributed family of coniferous shrubs and trees, several yielding valuable timber. The major genera are Juniperus (juniper), Thuja (arborvitae), and Cupressus (the true cypresses). Species of the latter, found in S Europe, East Asia, and W North America, are resinous evergreens with a fragrant, durable wood and scalelike leaves. The Monterey cypress ( C. macrocarpa ) is native to a limited region around the Bay of Monterey, Calif., but is cultivated in many parts of the world. It is sometimes planted as a hedge. The cypress of classical literature is the European C. sempervirens or Italian cypress. It has since early times been symbolic of mourning and, more recently, of immortality. The gates of St. Peter's at Rome, which stood for 1,100 years, were made of its wood. The funereal, or mourning, cypress ( C. funebris ) of China, with "weeping" branches, is a popular ornamental elsewhere. American trees of the genus Chamaecyparis of the same family are also called cypresses. Important as timber trees are the Lawson cypress, or Port Orford cedar ( C. lawsoniana ), and the Nootka, Sitka, or Alaska yellow cypress ( C. nootkatensis ), both of NW North America. C. thyoides, called white cedar in E North America, is a smaller tree also used for lumber. The lumber called cypress in the S United States is chiefly from trees of the family Taxodiaceae (bald cypress family). The true cypress family is classified in the division Pinophyta, class Pinopsida, order Coniferales.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.