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Nootka cypress

The Nootka cypress is most famous for being one of the parents of the popular Leylandii hybrid.
Peeling bark of the Nootka cypress

About Kew's Nootka cypress trees

Kew has only a few of this species planted in the Gardens. Our specimens are all still babies. In the wild the Nootka cypress is an extremely long-lived tree – a Californian specimen is estimated to be over 1,800 years old.

Take a closer look

  • When young, the bark of these trees is smooth and reddish, but when they mature it becomes silvery gray and may slough off in ribbon-like shreds. Since these trees can live to be 1,800 years old, Kew's specimens still count as young.
  • The tiny, scaly leaves of this tree are arranged tightly in overlapping rows with an almost plaited appearance. Because each leaf has a sharp point, a shoot will, like shark skin, feel smooth in one direction and prickly in the other.

Tree biology

The Nootka cypress has small, round cones that are light-green to begin with, tinged with purple and covered in a whitish waxy powder. In their second year the cones mature, turning dark brown with the appearance of little wooden balls. The cones have four to six scales, at the base of which are small winged seeds.

Cultivation and uses

In its native North America the timber of this tree is highly valued. It is hard, and resistant to weather, insects, contact with soil, and even acids. In the past it was used for making canoes, paddles and bows. Its durability suits it well for construction where it is used for decking, beams and panelling.

As it is expensive it is more often used in finished carpentry however, where it takes a fine finish and carves well.

In Britain it is grown purely for ornamental purposes.

Quick facts

  • Scientific name: Chamaecyparis nootkatensis. This species is named after the native American Nootka tribe from Vancouver Island in Canada, and is sometimes also known as the yellow or Alaska cypress.
  • Family: Cupressaceae
  • Place of origin: western North America, particularly mountainous regions from Alaska in the north through Washington and Oregon to California in the south.
  • Conservation status: Least Concern
  • Date planted: unknown
  • Height: 12 m