Western Cypress

©The World Botanical Associates Web Page
Prepared by Richard W. Spjut
June 2011

      The genus Cupressus has been interpreted to include ~24 species distributed in the Mediterranean, e Asia and west into the Himalayas, and w N & S Amer. (Earle, The Gymnosperm Database, http://www.conifers.org/cu/Cupressus.php); however, during the past decade, molecular studies have led to splitting of the genus and transfer of species among four genera: Cupressus with ~9 spp in the Old World, Callitropsis with 1 sp. nw N Amer., Chamaecyparis with 2 spp in N. Amer. and 3 in e Asia), and Hesperocyparis (16 spp. w N Amer. to Columbia (Adams et al. 2009).  Delimitation of the species and varieties have continued to be revised as well.

     Hesperocyparis is distinguished by the woody cones, often persistent on older branches and opening (scales separating) upon fire, in contrast to the succulent cones of Juniperus with fused scales, developing at the ends of leafy green branches (or in axils of leaves). 


Adams, R.P., J.A. Bartel and R.A. Price. 2009. A new genus, Hesperocyparis, for the cypresses of the western hemisphere. Phytologia 91: 160–185.

See also Waynes World. http://waynesword.palomar.edu/trfeb98a.htm for a comparison of cones among species.

Hesperocyparis macrocarpa
(Synonyms: Cupressus macrocarpa; Callitropsis macrocarpa; Neocupressus macrocarpa)

California—Monterey Co.: Point Lobos Reserve, Feb 2011

Hesperocyparis nevadensis
(Synonyms: Cupressus nevadensis; Cupressus arizonica var. nevadaensis; Callitropsis nevadensis; Neocupressus arizonica var. nevadensis)

California—Kern Co.:  Kern River Canyon, 2500 ft, along Old Kern Canyon Road, occurring with Juniperus californica, Pinus sabiniana, Quercus douglasii, Ceanothus cuneatus. Apr 2011

Possibly not reported from this location, although not far from the Bodfish region where known from elevations above 3,000 ft; however, Bartel (Jepson Man., 2nd ed. online) indicates its elevation can be as low as 750 m.   The species occurs mostly in Kern County, CA.


Record of collections for active species in the National Cancer Institute's antitumor screening program

Hesperocyparis (Cupressus) abramsiana
Hesperocyparis (Cupressus) guadalupensis
Hesperocyparis (Cupressus pygmaea)


Trees and Shrubs of Kern County (Jan 2013, Mar, Sep 2015)

Hesperocyparis nevadensis (Cupressus nevadensis Abrams 1919) Bartel 2009 [Cupressus arizonica (Greene 1882) ssp. nevadensis (Abrams) Murray 1982; Cupressus arizonica var. nevadensis (Abrams) Little 1966; Callitropsis  nevadensis (Abrams) D. P. Little 2006; Hesperocyparis arizonica var. nevadensis (Abrams) de Laubenfels 2012]. Piute cypress. Pyramidal trees; identified by the persistent woody cones on old branches; fruit cone type galbulus (Spjut 1994), further differentiated as platygalbulus (Stuppy & Spjut in prep.) leaves otherwise much like those of the upright junipers. Type from Piute Mts. near Bodfish, Kern Co., CA. “Piute cypress woodland” (alliance) recognized in MCV2 when >50% relative cover in tree canopy; the range shown to extend further north than described in JM2. Kern Co.: An infrequent species, nearly endemic to Kern County, chaparral and Douglas oak woodland north end of Piute Mt., north slope of Hobo Ridge on Breckenridge Mt. (40 acres, burned in 1970), Back Canyon—south end of Piute Mt., south slope of Cannell Creek on east side of Kern Canyon, east slope of Greenhorn Range, southeast slope of Black Mt., Bartolas Creek near base of Pilot Knob, and Bald Peak, 761–1,828 m (CCH collections only from Piute Mt.). The Piute Cypress Alliance  which includes chaparral species, Pinus monophylla, and  Juniperus californica (or J. grandis in Tulare County) has been mapped by the USDA Forest Service (2009, unpubl. rpt.) in small areas of the “Lower Batholith and Tehachapi–Piute Mountains Subsections”, adjacent to alliances of the lower montane mixed chaparral, California buckwheat, blue oak, and singleleaf pinyon pine.

            Native Americans employed dried seeds for sore chest, colds, or the entire cone for menstruation problems, kidney problems, and backaches (Moerman). Samples of  six related species showed antitumor activity in KB, several also active in P-388 and WM. Active agents unknown.

            Piute Cypress has been classified in three genera, Cupressus, Callitropsis, and Hesperocyparis. Mao et al. (2010) in a molecular study found two strongly supported groups, one for Cupressus, and another for Callitropsis, Hesperocyparis and Xanthocyparis (from Viet Nam). This suggests that Piute Cypress might be best classified in Callitropsis. However, Christenhusz et al. (2011) subsequently proposed reinstating Cupressus, because they did not find strong support for combining Callitropsis with Cupressus.  But the controversy continues in further evidence for support of Hesperocyparis (Terry & Adams 2015). Moreover, Piute cypress was recently treated as a variety of  H. arizonica (de Laubenfels 2012), whereas Terry et al. (2012), in a phylogenetic analysis of New World cypresses, continue to treat it as a distinct species, shown within a Macrocarpa clade of six species sister to an Arizonica clade of nine species.