A tree 60 to 90 ft high in cultivation, not more in a wild state; of pyramidal habit when young, becoming eventually flat-topped and with horizontal branches like a cedar of Lebanon. Branchlets much divided in an irregular (not two-ranked or horizontal) manner; the final ramifications terete or somewhat four-sided, 1⁄20 in. thick. Leaves scale-like, 1⁄16 in. long, uniform, closely flattened to the branchlet in four rows, overlapping each other at the base, the exposed part diamond-shaped, thick and rounded at the end. Cones oblong or globose, 1 to 11⁄2 in. long, 2⁄3 to 1 in. wide on short stout stalks; scales eight to fourteen, flattish, with a ridge-like projection in the centre. Seeds brown, minutely warted.
Native of California, where it is confined to two groves near the Pacific, south of Monterey. The larger, Cypress Point Grove, is 2 miles long and about a furlong wide; the other, Point Lobos Grove, is much smaller. The trees grow on the shore cliffs, and being undermined by the sea, occasionally fall into it. At this spot they appear as rugged veterans, identical in habit with the cedar of Lebanon. The species was introduced about 1838, and has proved to be one of the hardiest of the true cypresses. It succeeds much the best in warm maritime localities, but even in inland places like Kew it is over 80 ft high. When young it is more tender, and at this state is so distinct in general appearance as to show no apparent relationship to the adult type. The leaves are 1⁄8 in. long, awl-shaped, with sharp, outwardly spreading points; the shoots much longer and more attenuated, the leaves well apart. As the plants increase in age, they gradually assume the adult state described above; but when, as they sometimes are in mild counties, used for hedges and clipped back annually, the young growths retain this juvenile type of foliage and branchlet. The young growths are sometimes distinctly lemon-scented.
The following are some of the largest specimens recorded recently in the British Isles, notable either for height or girth: Beauport, Sussex, 85 × 27 ft at 1 ft (1965); Bicton, Devon, 110 × 12 ft (1964), a fine tree; Northerwood House, Hants, 117 × 201⁄2 ft at 3 ft (1963); Montacute House, Somerset, 117 × 221⁄2 ft (1962), good bole; Melbury, Dorset, 117 × 181⁄2 ft (1957); Watcombe, Torquay, 115 × 273⁄4 ft at 1 ft (1962); Mamhead, Devon, 105 × 163⁄4 ft (1963), a very shapely tree; Tregothnan, Cornwall, 120 × 191⁄2 ft (1965), a very fine tree on an 8 ft bole.
cv. ‘Crippsii’. – A juvenile state, with stiff branches.
f. fastigiata (Carr.) Rehd. C. lambertiana vat. fastigiata Carr. – Branches permanently erect-growing, giving a tree of columnar or fastigiate form. Such variants occur not uncommonly among seedlings.
cv. ‘Lutea’. – Young shoots and leaves of a beautiful yellow. Of the same kind, but with brighter golden foliage, are ‘Donard Gold’, raised by the Slieve Donard Nursery Co. in 1935; and ‘Goldcrest’, raised by Messrs Treseder of Truro shortly after the second world war. As is the case with many golden-leaved conifers, none of these varieties develop their full colouring if grown in a shaded position.
cv. ‘Pygmaea’. – very dwarf and dense in habit. raised at carshalton nursery.