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Lawson's cypress

This is Britain's most popular garden conifer, with hundreds of cultivars grown in domestic gardens and parks across the country.

Cones of Lawson's cypress

About Kew's Lawson's cypress trees

In 1854, a Scottish botanist called John Jeffrey travelled to Northern California on a seed collecting expedition. He disappeared without trace and, in an attempt to find him, fellow botanist William Murray travelled to search the area. He didn't find his colleague, but he did discover the Lawson's cypress, bringing seeds back to Lawson & Son nurseries in Edinburgh.

Kew's earliest plantings are from 1878, quite soon after this species was brought to the UK.

Take a closer look

  • Notice how the flat sprays of thick, leathery foliage stop light and water from reaching the ground, leaving it dry and bare.
  • The pea-sized flowers are one easy way to identify this tree. Look out for the bark also, which is reddish-brown and fibrous to scaly, in vertical strips.
     

Tree biology

Lawson's cypress can survive perfectly well without the heavy rainfall and sea fog of California, but outside this native range it tends to fall short of the 70 m heights achieved in the wild.

Each tree bears both male and female flowers in abundance. The male flowers begin white, turn red and usually fall off by May. The female flowers start off grey-blue before turning green and finally opening as small, brown woody cones.

Cultivation and uses

Lawson’s cypress wood is light and durable, and is particularly highly valued in east Asia. Besides its popularity for making Japanese coffins, the straightness of its grain makes it a preferred wood for making arrow shafts. It is also considered an acceptable, though not ideal, wood for building aircrafts.

The fact that it germinates in just a few weeks makes it a popular plant for cultivation and it is the UK's most popular garden conifer.

Quick facts

  • Scientific name: Chamaecyparis lawsoniana
  • Family: Cupressaceae
  • Place of origin: western USA, from south-western Oregon to northern California
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable. Though common in cultivation, in the wild Lawson's cypress is seriously threatened by a fungal disease which attacks the roots.
  • Date planted: Unknown
  • Height: Not recorded