Monday, September 04, 2006

The Arizona Cypress

We lived south of the Prietas in Wilhoit when my husband and I first came to the Prescott area. In case you don't know that area, it is about 400-600 feet lower in elevation, has a hot southern exposure and grows chaparral brush, not trees. Rain? Only 12-14" per year. High desert.

When we talked "tree" to the nurseries, "Arizona cypress" was the answer we got. Fast growing, minimal water, few pests -- all the good characteristics.

I don't know if this native to Sedona and the southern part of the state is still being planted in today's new suburbs. It was certainly a favorite in earlier times -- you will find the tree growing all over the central part of town. Examples: Sharlot Hall (above) and Vista Drive (below), where the Christmas tree shape shows up well.

You'll also find tall cypress in rows out in the countryside; it was favored by ranchers for windbreaks in the old days.

Says the Natl. Christmas Tree Assn.: "The Arizona cypress covers the largest natural range of the North American cypresses. It is found in west Texas, northwest Mexico, southwest New Mexico, south California, and southern Arizona. It has been successfully grown in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, the Florida panhandle, Tennessee, and in the Carolinas."

And more about the tree from the Yavapai county agent: "These trees are part of the Sedona's native plant community and can be found thriving next to intermittent streams and in the cooler canyons. A short geology lesson gives insight into the current [spotty] distribution of native Arizona Cypress. During the Pleistocene Epoch, the desert southwest was much wetter and cooler than it is today. Arizona Cypress was widespread over in the prehistoric southwest landscape. Botanists think that when the Pleistocene ice retreated northward about 10,000 years ago, the distribution of Arizona Cypress began to diminish and fragment. Today, this plant dinosaur only clings to scattered sites in the southwest where the microclimate permits its survival and reproduction."

By the way, if you want to see the cypress in its native heath, drive north and west on Dry Creek Road out of Sedona. I don't know how badly the current drought may have affected the woods, however.

The beautiful bark is one of the striking features of the Arizona cypress. It shreds in long lengthwise strips and reveals a sometimes brownish, sometimes purplish smooth surface. You can get a good look at bark from the Gurley Street sidewalk next to the log cabin at the Sharlot Hall grounds (above) -- or over at Prescott College's Crossroads Center, where a stump (below) serves as a natural sculpt.

Here, a view of the scaly leaves.

And the seeds. In nature, according to the references, these hard seedpods wait for fire to open. It's different in Prescott. Here, the pods drop, open to scatter a lot of seeds -- and around the trees at Sharlot Hall, lots of little cypress plants spring up every year. And they keep coming up over by the United Methodist Church on Gurley -- several years after their magnificent old tree had to be cut down.

It doesn't happen at Chez GrannyJ -- I've collected these pods for years, planted the seeds, watered them. Nada. Nothing. Too bad. I'd like a cypress.


Linda G. said...

This is so interesting. We have an AZ Cypress close to our bird feeders, and the wild birds fly into the branches to check things out before coming down to feed.
We've loved this tree for years, but never knew..........

Granny J said...

I was surprised, when I went agooglin,' to find the AZ cypress recommended as a Christmas tree! They really are neat trees!

dana o. said...

The Arizona Cypress trees were badly hit by the drought in Long Canyon off Dry Creek Road. Many of them were dead the last time we hiked there 2 years ago. But, we also saw babies coming up!

Granny J said...

Thanks for the update, Dana. I was afraid that the woodlands might have been hurt badly.

As for the cypress treelets, per my usual luck, three days after I posted this article, I found oodles of 3-4 year old cypress in the boxed off little gardens at the United Methodist Church. Viva the Life Force!

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