Mediterranean Cypress

Cupressus sempervirens

Herbs gallery - Mediterranean Cypress

Common names

  • Graveyard Cypress
  • Italian Cypress
  • Mediterranean Cypress
  • Pencil Pine
  • Tuscan Cypress

Mediterranean cypress (botanical name C. sempervirens) is average sized coniferous evergreen tree. This plant, also known as Italian cypress, grows up to a height of about 35 meters (115 feet) and has a cone shaped crown. The branches of this tree are parallel to the ground with hanging branchlets that differ from one another. Mediterranean cypress has a very long life span and it has been documented that a number of trees of this species have been surviving for more than 1,000 years.

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The trunk of the Mediterranean cypress tree is erect, while its bark remains smooth, thin and grey for a prolonged period. Later, the bark starts turning greyish-brown and perpendicularly furrowed. The dark green foliage of this tree grows to form compact sprays. The leaves of this tree are somewhat like scales and measure anything between 2 mm and 5 mm in length. These leaves emerge from curved, but not flattened shoots. On the other hand, the seed cones of the Mediterranean cypress tree have an oblong or ovoid shape and measure anything between 25 mm and 40 mm in length. They have about 10 to 14 scales, which are initially green in color, but turn brown as they mature between 20 months and 24 months following pollination.

The male cones of this tree measure about 3 mm to 5 mm in length and discharge their pollen towards the end of winter. This tree is somewhat vulnerable to cypress canker, a disease attributed to the fungus Seiridium cardinale. In addition, these trees can also be subject to assault to widespread dieback in locations where this disease is extensive. This tree derives its species name from the Latin term that denotes "evergreen".

The seed bearing cones start opening in September. After they release the seeds, the cones continue to remain on the trees for many years. This is common in the case of several species belonging to genus Cupressus. It has been seen that the C. sempervirens trees exhibit different levels of serotiny. For instance, the cones of this species may continue to be unopened for several years until there is any fire that encourages them to open and then release their viable seeds.

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For millennia, people have cultivated the Mediterranean cypress as an ornamental tree at places that are far away from the species' place of origin. While they are common all over the Mediterranean region, currently they are found in several regions have Mediterranean climate wherein the summers are hot and dry, while there is mild rain during the winter months. At present, you can find these trees in the southwest region of South Africa, California and the southern parts of Australia. In fact, you can also cultivate this species successfully in places having cooler and moister summers, for instance New Zealand, the British Isles and even the Pacific Northwest, which includes Washington, coastal Oregon and British Columbia. Over the years, the Mediterranean cypress has also been cultivated as an ornamental tree in Florida as well as several coastal regions of southern United States. In a number of places, especially the United States, the Mediterranean cypress is also called the Italian cypress or the Tuscan cypress.

The Mediterranean cypress tree is also famous for its very hard-wearing and fragrant wood, which was notably used for making the doors of the Vatican City's St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. There was a time when people used this tree in distilleries in the form of staves with a view to store mash ferments that were used for making alcohol. In fact, this was prior to the invention and manufacture of stainless steel. Mediterranean cypress trees are very common all over New Mexico. This tree is also called the "drama tree", as it, especially its branches, has an inclination to bend even when there is very mild breeze.

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Humans have been using the Mediterranean cypress tree since the ancient times, dating back to the Levantian and East Mediterranean civilizations. Initially, this tree was held in esteem for the outstanding durability of its wood, which possesses the ability to resist decay. Afterwards, this tree turned out to be ornamental. In fact, the ornamental use of this tree has been responsible for its extensive introduction all over the Mediterranean region right from the time of the Romans to this date. Actually, the columnar, fastigiated or conical form of this tree is a typical characteristic of the urban and coastal landscape in several towns and villages. In many areas, this tree regenerates on its own. However, the fastigiate nature of this tree is contrary to its cultivated origin. It has been found that very old cultivars of the Mediterranean cypress are really resilient and are able to endure both snow and frost up to -20°C and sometimes even lower temperatures. On the other hand, some modern cultivars of this species that date back to the 19th century have been identified, but they are cultivated rarely these days.

The Mediterranean cypress is also used in the cosmetic industry. In this industry it is primarily used for its firming, astringent, anti-dandruff, anti-seborrheic and anti-aging properties. In addition, the tree is also valued for the fragrance of its wood. Traditionally, the wood of this tree has also been employed for Italian harpsichords.

Parts used

Cones, needles.

Uses

The Mediterranean cypress has several applications and it is interesting to note that one popular application of this tree is in the form of a foot bath. You may place the cones of the tree in hot water bath and soak your feet in it to obtain several helpful organic compounds contained by the tree. When the cones are placed in hot water, they release several therapeutic compounds which possess the ability to perk up your immune system in the feet considerably. It has been found that bacterial and fungal infections usually occur in the extremities and using the Mediterranean cypress may help to prevent profuse sweating in your feet. In fact, such excessive sweating promotes occurrence of fungal infections such as athlete's foot. However, it is possible to prevent such infections by taking foot bath in hot water containing cypress cones. This will prove to be highly beneficial for people who have a tendency to be on their feet or wear shoes for prolonged periods.

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The essential oil of Mediterranean cypress is generally employed in aromatherapy, especially for treating problems related to the respiratory system. In addition, drinking a decoction prepared from the needles of the tree can also provide equally effective relief to people who are suffering from various respiratory problems like asthma, nasal drip, bronchitis, chronic congestion, or various other inflammations in the respiratory tract. Such people will obtain the optimum benefits provided they consume the decoction every day. However, you should know that this decoction is a very potent tea and one should never use it in excess.

This decoction can also be applied topically to the scalp and hair with a view to invigorate follicle beds as well as glands, thereby resulting in richer and stronger hair. This also ensures the rich gloss of the hair and helps to prevent hair from falling out. In addition, the decoction of cypress needles also possesses the aptitude to aid in reducing dandruff by ensuring that the skin on the scalp does not dry out.

Acne is a very common, but very bothersome skin condition, which affects several million people across the globe. Fortunately, there are a number of traditional medicines which are effective in alleviating this problem. In fact, people across the world depend on many such natural traditional remedies for treating acne effectively. You may apply a salve prepared by blending the decoction made from cypress needles and a suitable carrier oil to your skin with a view to stay free from bacterial infections like acne and, at the same time, alleviate swelling and inflammation of the sebum glands, which have the potential to worsen acne. Aside from this, these cypress salves are also frequently used to accelerate the healing process and also diminish the appearance of blemishes and scars on the skin. Therefore, the Mediterranean cypress is considered to be a valuable tree for treating various types of skin problems.

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The decoction prepared from cypress needles can be taken orally as well as applied topically in the form of a solution. In both cases, this herbal remedy helps to decrease internal as well as external inflammations. This cypress decoction is extremely beneficial for people suffering from arthritis, inflammatory muscle conditions and gout, as it possesses that aptitude to provide relief from pain and uneasiness. In addition, formulations prepared from different parts of the Mediterranean cypress also have the potential to calm the different organ systems of our body, which may also be inflamed owing to nutritional deficiency or any type of infection, thereby helping the body to recuperate faster. You can also apply the cypress salve mentioned above to hemorrhoids for eliminating pain and also reducing inflammation.

While scientists are yet to ascertain the precise mechanism of this remedy completely, people have been using the needles and decoction of Mediterranean cypress for several years to treat and get rid of varicose veins. Use of the decoction for this purpose as well as others is strongly supported by traditional herbal medicine. However, the contemporary medical community as well as researchers are yet to substantiate this specific application of the decoction prepared from the Mediterranean cypress needles.

Habitat and cultivation

A species of cypress, the Mediterranean cypress has its origin in the eastern region of the Mediterranean, including the northeast of Libya, western Syria, southern part of Greece, Israel, Lebanon, western Jordan, northern Egypt, Cyprus, southern Albania, southern Turkey, Italy, Malta, the southern coastal Croatia (Dalmatia) as well as some regions of Iran.

This species is found growing in juniper or pine forests. It is common in rocky soil mainly over limestone slopes as well as in gorges. Sometimes, the Mediterranean cypress is also found growing on igneous rocks. The natural habitat of this species ranges between 90 meters and 1700 meters above sea level. It flourishes in the Mediterranean climate where the summers are hot and dry, while it rains during the winter. Often it is also found growing naturally in the southern Mediterranean regions where the climatic conditions are partially arid.

Commercial cultivation: Ideally the Mediterranean or Italian cypress ought to be planted in properly prepared sites and the plants should be watered from time to time till they become well established. Here is a word of caution - you should never prune the Italian cypress. Moreover, this plant is very vulnerable to assaults by mites, which often infest these trees. Usually, this species is propagated from its cuttings or via layering.

Side effects and cautions

There is no report about the parts of the Mediterranean cypress plant causing any allergic reactions. However, if you are using the essential oil of the Mediterranean cypress you should never use it orally, especially when you are not under the direct supervision of a medical professional. As this essential oil is a very strong blend of various chemicals, consuming it can result in severe complication. Hence, it is recommended that you should always be used the Mediterranean cypress essential oil under the supervision of a medical practitioner and always follow the guidelines strictly with a view to avoid any health complication.

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